On Friday, the Biden administration began executing a dramatic policy shift at the US-Mexico border, when a COVID-era directive allowing the fast deportation of many migrants expired and new asylum limitations went into effect amid confusion and uncertainty.
Several last-minute court moves contributed to the uncertainty surrounding President Joe Biden’s modified border approach, with activists mounting a legal challenge to the new asylum law as it was approved.
Facing concerns that the end of a three-year-old order – known as Title 42 – could further strain U.S. border facilities, cities and towns, U.S. officials were keeping a close eye on the movements of migrants that had already reached record numbers in recent days.
“We continue to encounter high levels of non-citizens at the border, but we did not see a substantial increase overnight or an influx at midnight,” when Title 42 expired, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official Blas Nunez-Neto told reporters on Friday.
Seeking to discourage migrants from traveling to the border, the Mexican government said its national migration institute has ordered its offices not to issue immigration documents or other permits enabling travel within the country, creating another obstacle for migrants.
Though a chaotic race to U.S. border ports of entry on Thursday appeared to have given way to relative calm on Friday, there was a sense of confusion among some migrants.
At the U.S. border fence dividing El Paso, Texas, from Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, hundreds of migrants who had slept there overnight formed a single file line to be brought into the U.S. by authorities and put on buses. Texas National Guard, state troopers and border agents patrolled the area.
Immigration advocates represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a legal challenge against the new asylum bars, claiming they violate U.S. and international laws.
Advocates argue the new regulation, put in place by Biden’s Democratic administration to curb illegal crossings, resembles restrictions imposed by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, that they had successfully blocked in court.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the Biden regulation, saying it aims to encourage migrants to enter using legal pathways. “It’s going to be a tough transition,” he told MSNBC.
U.S. asylum officers hurried to figure out the logistics of applying the new asylum regulation.
Further complicating the new U.S. policy, a federal judge in Florida ordered the U.S. Border Patrol not to release any migrants without first issuing them formal notices to appear in immigration court. The Texas attorney general later asked a federal judge to do the same.