Politicians have said there is one immigration crisis on the border for decades and have been trying to fix it for almost as long. The rules have changed many times over the years — and they’re about to change again as a series of pandemic-era restrictions expire on May 11, 2023.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration to the US at the border with Mexico was governed by a group of federal immigration laws and regulations, collectively known as Title 8. Among other things, these laws set the conditions for the rapid expulsion of people who enter the country illegally or who do not qualify for asylum.
In March 2020, after COVID-19 hit, President Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency. That prompted a more restrictive set of rules under a decades-old, little-used set of public health regulations known as Title 42. These regulations enabled customs and border patrol agents to both quickly deport migrants who entered the US illegally and deny asylum seekers the right to enter the country as a way to stop the spread of a COVID-19 virus.
As the public health emergency ends on May 11, the rules for prospective immigrants are changing again. Title 8 rules will go back into effect — and new measures from the Biden administration will also be in effect. The purpose of the administration is to contain the flow of an expected 13,000 migrants every day. But these new measures may exclude refugees who are in real danger.
For example, a new measure will refuse asylum to people who arrive at the southern border of the US without first applying for asylum online or in the country they passed through. And under Title 8people who enter the country illegally a five-year suspension from the US
From my work as scholar of migration studiesI believe the new set of rules could make some of the most vulnerable migrants even more vulnerable to economic and political exploitation and violence by delaying or denying them U.S. protection under federal laws and international rules on asylum.
Postponement of immigration and asylum
Research shows that the United States immigration policy has never deterred migrants by come to the country; they have only made the immigration process longer and more difficult.
In fact, delays among asylum seekers have increased more than sevenfold in the past 10 years. There are more than 750,000 pending cases, with the average waiting time for a hearing currently exceeding four years.
These figures do not take into account the time it takes for migrants to get from their home country to the Mexico-US border, where they may also have to wait months or years before being allowed to cross. Parallel to the immigration court, there are backlogs delays at the borderwhere the slow stream of admissions of new asylum seekers in the US, now only allowed through a faltering smartphone app, has failed to keep up with the newcomers for years, seriously challenging Mexico’s capacity to accommodate them.
Humanization of deportation
Since 2016 I coordinate a digital storytelling project called “Humanization of deportation”, which has published personal stories in audiovisual form of more than 350 migrants. It is the world’s largest qualitative database on the human consequences of contemporary US border and migration control policies.
Our research shows that as migration deterrent policies have multiplied and intensified during the past two presidential administrations, migration narratives have become more complex and migrant travel has become more difficult. A story from our archive shows how several of these policies have worked out for a migrant family.
Our project is unable to verify all the details of migrants’ stories, and what you read here is based on a family’s memory of events.
A migrant from Honduras discusses the hardships, including deportation and kidnapping, he and his family faced when they traveled to the US to seek asylum.
Deportations, deliveries and a kidnapping
a Honduran migrant who wishes to remain anonymous initially left his homeland in a migrant caravan in 2018. After entering the US, the migrant says that despite his insistence that he feared being returned and his refusal to sign a voluntary removal form, Border Patrol officers yelled obscenities at him and physically forced him to place a thumbprint on the documentthen deported him to Honduras.
Shortly afterwards, the migrant left again, this time with his pregnant wife and young son. Before they got far, they were detained by Mexican immigration authorities and later deported. But they set off again and reached Huixtla, Chiapas, Mexico, where they had to stop to his wife gave birth.
The family settled in Monterrey, Nuevo León for a while, but struggled to make a living there. They decided to pay a smuggler to accompany the wife and son to the Mexico-US border, where they crossed the border in the summer of 2019 and were apprehended by Border Patrol. Agents let the two start their asylum procedure through the Migrant protection protocols, a U.S. government program that returns migrants who have arrived in the United States from Mexico overland to Mexico while the U.S. immigration process is underway. Under the guidelines, they were returned to Mexico pending trial.
Human rights proponents criticized Migrant Protection Protocols for its dangerssuch as extortion, kidnapping and rape faced by migrants in Mexico. In this case, immediately after mother and son returned, they were kidnapped. Without the money to pay the ransom, they had to turn to friends and family, including the woman’s mother, who sold her house in Honduras to get them released.
Back in Monterrey, the man, afraid to try to seek asylum after being deported but determined to make it to the US, paid a smuggler to get him to Tennessee.
Meanwhile, his wife did not want to stay in Monterrey. “I was really scared — I didn’t go out because I thought they were going to kidnap me again,” she told us. So she retreated to the south of Mexico with her son and daughter.
By working as an auto mechanic, the man was able to earn enough money in Tennessee to pay most of what they owed the smugglers and their families.
Then, in 2021, when the Biden administration allowed migrants who had given up their asylum claims under the Migrant Protection Protocol to resume the process — but in the US — the mother and children joined the husband in Tennessee. Next year, they moved to California, where they feel more welcome as an immigrant family than in Tennessee. Although the woman is still waiting for a court case, the family is hopeful that she and the children will be granted asylum. But she was thrilled to have recently given birth to a baby boy in California.
“Because it is more peaceful there,” says the father, who is afraid to participate in his wife’s asylum application because of his previous deportation. “We’ve heard that the immigrant community is the most protected there.”
Numerous policies from the past seven years were introduced to prevent migration, but many people migrated anyway. They have been forced to make long, difficult, dangerous journeys and often traumatic migration processes that have endangered and complicated their lives.