The Biden administration has announced plans to open migration centers in Guatemala and Colombia for asylum seekers heading to the U.S.-Mexico border. The move follows the end of pandemic-era immigration restrictions on May 11 and aims to prevent thousands of people from making the often-dangerous journey to the southern border. The centers, which will be run by international organizations, will provide prospective migrants with information on applying to become a refugee or other immigration options to either the United States or other countries. Other measures include expedited processing for asylum seekers and crackdowns on human smuggling networks.
However, it is unclear whether these measures will do much to slow the tide of migrants fleeing from countries marred by political and economic strife. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that migrants and human smugglers should not interpret the upcoming deadline to mean that the border is wide open, stating that "our border is not open and not will be open after May 11."
The immigration restrictions date back to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when the Trump administration invoked a rule known as Title 42, which allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants without letting them apply for asylum. Since March 2020, migrants have been expelled from the country more than 2.8 million times using Title 42.
The Biden administration is also expanding access to an app where migrants can apply for asylum at a U.S. port of entry and creating a new reunification process for families from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia that will allow vetted migrants with family in the U.S. to come legally. Officials are also working to double the number of refugees from the Western Hemisphere and curb migration through the Darien Gap by dismantling smuggling rings operating in the dense jungle.
While the move has been attacked by Republicans who claim that the border is wide open under Biden's leadership, immigration advocates say that Title 42 actually gave migrants a perverse incentive to try repeatedly to enter the country. They argue that it is unclear what will happen when Title 42 goes away, and the U.S. goes back to using immigration regulations that actually penalize someone who gets expelled. The administration, however, has announced that people who come illegally will be swiftly removed and barred from re-entering the country for at least five years and would not be able to apply for asylum.