The Biden administration is working to create a “fair and equitable” asylum-seeker system, according to the top official at US Customs and Border Protection, in response to criticism that his agency has allowed some groups, such as Ukrainians, to enter the country with relative ease while quickly expelling others.
During an interview with CBS News on Thursday, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus was asked why his agency had not created a process similar to the one used this spring to admit 22,000 Ukrainian refugees along the southern border for asylum-seekers from Central America, many of whom face deportation from the United States.
In April alone, border officials in the United States admitted 20,000 Ukrainians who had flown to Mexico to escape the Russian invasion, exempting them from Title 42 restrictions at ports of entry and granting them humanitarian parole, or permission to remain in the country. Arrivals of Ukrainians in Mexico have largely ceased since the establishment of a private sponsorship program that has allowed tens of thousands of other Ukrainians to enter the United States.
Meanwhile, federal statistics show that US border agents have continued to use Trump-era Title 42 public health rules to deport tens of thousands of other migrants each month, the majority of whom are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the nationalities that the Mexican government allows the US to return to its territory.
According to studies, Central Americans cross the border for a variety of reasons, including extreme poverty, hunger, gang violence, a desire to reunite with family in the United States, and to flee environmental disasters.
According to agency data, CBP expelled over 73,000 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in July, accounting for nearly 99% of all Title 42 expulsions that month. Other migrants from countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are typically not deported because their governments do not accept deportation from the United States.
Title 42 has been applied selectively and discriminatorily, according to migrant advocates and some Democratic lawmakers, who have urged the Biden administration to process more migrants, regardless of nationality, at official ports of entry, where seeking asylum is legal under US law.
Magnus acknowledged on Thursday that migrants sent to Mexico face “very difficult” conditions, but he added that each nationality arriving at the US-Mexico border faces “specific circumstances,” noting that Ukrainians are fleeing an armed conflict in their homeland.
Magnus stated that his goal is to increase asylum-seeker processing at ports of entry, which experts believe discourages some migrants from crossing the border illegally. However, he stated that the challenge is to continue to facilitate commercial and pedestrian traffic while expanding processing of migrants who lack travel documents.
While the Biden administration has not set up a process on the scale of the one used to admit Ukrainians this spring, according to government data disclosed in a federal court case, it has gradually increased the number of asylum-seekers selected to be exempted from Title 42 and processed at ports of entry after security vetting.
While the statistics do not include nationality information, separate government figures show that the number of Haitians processed by the Office of Field Operations, the CBP agency in charge of the ports of entry, has increased significantly.
According to CBP figures, just over 5,000 Haitians were processed at ports of entry along the southern border last month, an 83% increase from May, while only 348 were arrested for illegally entering the United States, a 95% decrease from May.
During the interview on Thursday, Magnus stated that the repeal of Title 42, which a federal court has ordered the Biden administration to maintain, would allow his agents to apply “consequences” to migrants who attempt to enter the United States illegally multiple times in between ports of entry.
Because, unlike formal deportations, Title 42 expulsions do not result in a multi-year banishment from the United States or the threat of detention or criminal prosecution, the policy has fueled a high rate of repeat crossings among migrants expelled by land to Mexico.
The high recidivism rate, which stood at 22% in July, has contributed to unprecedented levels of migrant arrests recorded over the past year. CBP is expected to record more than 2 million migrant encounters in fiscal year 2022, which ends at the end of September, an all-time high.