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Immigration to the United States: What is “Section 42” and what will happen after its suspension?


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With the end of measures to combat the spread of the Corona epidemic in the United States at midnight on Thursday, the effects of the Health Emergency Act, or what has become known as “Section 42”, under which more than two million immigrants have been deported and deported over the past year, also expire. What is this clause and how has it shaped immigration policy in the United States over the past years? What are the next steps for the authorities to deal with migrant flows?

The United States has recorded a sharp rise in the number of migrants arriving across its southern border, days before it begins adopting a new law that is expected to prevent most illegal border crossings from seeking asylum.

The authorities had issued a statement yesterday, Wednesday, May 10, in which they considered that, according to this law, Most immigrants will be ineligible for asylum if they pass through other countries without first seeking protection there, or if they fail to reach the United States legally.

The authorities have recorded more than 10,000 people crossing daily since the beginning of this week, with tens of thousands gathered on the other side of the border, on the Mexican side, waiting for their chance.

During a press conference in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorcas said that under the new law, immigrants who cross the border illegally “will suffer serious consequences. If caught, they can be deported and banned from entering the United States for five years…” .

An aerial view of migrants at the El Paso border crossing on the banks of the Rio Grande River, May 4, 2023. © HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP

“We say clearly that our borders are not open, irregular crossing is against the law. Those who are not eligible for assistance will be quickly turned back,” Mayorkas added.

10 thousand immigrants per day

The new law is part of President Joe Biden’s border control plan, to enter into force after the end of the effects “Item 42” (Title42) before midnight Thursday. The administration of former President Donald Trump had adopted this procedure since March 2020, according to which many of those who crossed the border from Mexico without being able to claim asylum were expelled.

Various media carried pictures of large crowds of migrants gathering at the border fence with Mexico, waiting to be able to cross.

Brandon Good, president of the American Border Patrol Union, said in press statements that more than 10,000 immigrants have been arrested every day since the beginning of the week, which is a large number compared to what was recorded last month.

What is Section 42, and why are immigrants now seeking to cross the border into the US as it expires?

This legal measure dates back to 1944 and was known as the Public Health Act, giving US authorities the power to impose a state of emergency to prevent the spread of disease.

In March 2020, the Trump administration relied on this law as part of its efforts to stem the flow of immigrants, under the pretext of preventing the spread of the Corona epidemic. The law enabled the US authorities during this time, under the pretext of preventing the spread of the epidemic inside the country, to expel immigrants and asylum seekers. And with his arrival in power, Biden kept that law at the border, which led to the expulsion of more than two million immigrants and asylum seekers between 2021 and 2022, according to data from the US Border Protection Agency.

And with the US federal authorities announcing the end of the measures to prevent the Corona epidemic, “Article 42” has become inapplicable, and the authorities will not be able to use it as an excuse to carry out more expulsions and forced deportations.

American political circles expect a significant increase in the number of immigrants arriving across the border with the termination of “Article 42” before midnight, especially since many of those who were expelled under this law are still at the border, waiting for an opportunity to allow them to return.

And the US Secretary of Homeland Security had called on immigrants, during his press interview in Washington last week, to beware of misleading information spread by smugglers. “You are being deceived and you are risking your life and money…” he said.

Mayorkas stressed that “the borders are not open and will not open after May 11.”

Border town preparations

With all of the above, American border cities and towns are preparing for renewed waves of immigrants.

City of Brownsville, State Texas It has been witnessing a significant increase in the number of arrivals for about a week and a half. Sergio Cordova, founder of the non-governmental organization “Team Brownsville” concerned with helping immigrants, said that his organization receives about a thousand immigrants daily at its center, stressing that there are dozens of homeless immigrants on the streets of the city.

As for the city of El Paso, it declared a state of emergency before the “Section 42” expired. City authorities have reported that there are about 2,300 homeless migrants, spread around two shelters in the city center, at a time when the basic resources required to help them are running low.

John Martin, deputy director of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in El Paso, told CNN CNN The American said last Sunday, “We are still able to feed them, but in all honesty this is not a sustainable process…”.

“This is a national issue. We in El Paso, along with many other communities along the southern border, are on the front line,” Martin said.

To deal with the influx of migrants, the US authorities have announced a number of steps to enhance border security, including the deployment of 1,500 troops to assist Customs and Border Protection. But this step was deplored by the two main parties to American politics, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, considered that “there is indeed a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere… The deployment of the military indicates that the issue of immigrants is considered a threat and requires the intervention of the army… and this is something that is not true.”

During a press conference last Monday morning, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott likened the end of Article 42 to opening doors and welcoming immigrants from all over the world, and an indication that America’s borders are wide open.

“It will lead to an incredible number of people crossing the border illegally,” Abbott said, adding that the administration’s policies “would lead to disaster.”

Immigration and the US Presidential Election

Immigration is likely to play an important role in the 2024 presidential race, as many Americans have expressed concern about borders and US immigration policy.

Republicans criticized Biden, a Democrat who announced his intention to re-run for the 2024 elections, for backing away from the hard-line immigration policies of former Republican President Donald Trump.

Trump, who is also a candidate for the 2024 elections, had considered “Article 42” one of his “most successful policies”.

A poll conducted by the Center Associated Press-NORC Four out of 10 Americans believe fewer immigrants and asylum seekers should be allowed into the country.

About two-thirds of the Republican Party support this demand, while polls showed divisions among the Democrats, as 26% supported reducing the number of immigrants, while 37% considered that their country should receive more immigrants and asylum seekers.

What are the next steps for the US authorities?

With the termination of Section 42, US immigration authorities will revert to previous protocols. As SMigrants are either removed from the country, detained, or released pending an immigration court hearing.

In addition, the Biden administration is seeking to add changes through which it hopes to reduce pressure on the borders and help the concerned agencies, including “accelerating” the asylum application procedures and verifying the applicants within 24 hours, in addition to deporting those whose applications are rejected within days or weeks. as Illegal immigrants will be deported, barred from returning to the United States for at least five years, and “presumed ineligible for asylum.”

The Biden administration is also trying to work to create legal immigration pathways, hoping to deter immigrants from crossing illegally. The Department of Homeland Security had prepared a plan for this goal, which includes establishing additional facilities along the border to process immigrants’ applications, enhancing transportation and adopting mechanisms that help speed up deportations.

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