WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) – Thousands of immigrants are entering the United States this week before a new rule takes effect that would bar most of those seeking asylum illegally.
The United States issued a regulation on Wednesday that deems most immigrants ineligible for asylum if they travel to other countries without first seeking protection elsewhere or if they fail to use legal channels to enter the United States.
The new rule is a key part of President Joe Biden’s border enforcement plan as the Covid-19 restrictions – known as Title 42 – expire shortly before midnight on Thursday.
Under Title 42, which has been in effect since March 2020, many border crossers are quickly deported to Mexico without a chance to claim asylum, leading to repeated attempts.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the new rule would have severe consequences for immigrants who cross illegally, who could be deported and barred from the U.S. for up to five years if they’re caught and don’t qualify for asylum.
“We are making it clear that our border is not open, that irregular crossings are against the law, and that those who are not eligible for relief will be quickly turned back,” Mayorkas said at a press conference in Washington.
Immigrants are flocking to various parts of the border in Mexico — many of whom don’t know when, or how, to cross. Drone footage showed large crowds gathering at the border fence in El Paso, Texas, across from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
At a high wall separating San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, hundreds have been waiting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents in recent days.
Some have camped for days under Mylar blankets, surviving on granola bars and water, as they await processing on American soil between a primary wall and a secondary wall.
A group of single women from Colombia and a family with two young children said they left home seven days ago, flew to El Salvador and then traveled by bus through Central America and Mexico.
“We heard Title 42 was going to end and there would be no option after that,” said Diana, 30, who declined to give her last name. He said he heard about the policy change through news and word of mouth.
Brandon Judd, president of the union for Border Patrol agents, said more than 10,000 migrants were apprehended illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border each day on Monday and Tuesday. The total exceeded the scenario outlined by a top U.S. border official last month over the period when Title 42 ended.
Border agents are authorized to release immigrants in border towns if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and charities don’t have the ability to take them in, Judd said.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Criticisms from both sides
Biden, a Democrat who is running for re-election in 2024, has been criticized by Republicans for rolling back the hardline policies of former Republican President Donald Trump.
A coalition of 22 Republican state attorneys general has opposed the new asylum rule as “riddled with exceptions.”
But some Democrats and immigration advocates say Biden’s new regulation is too harsh, comparing it to measures implemented under Trump that have been blocked by U.S. courts. They also say it undermines asylum guarantees in US law and international treaties.
The move contradicts previous statements Biden made during the 2020 campaign that he thought it was “wrong” that people could not seek asylum in the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already signaled it will sue the policy.
The rule, which takes effect Thursday and expires in two years, applies to the majority of non-Mexican immigrants who seek asylum because they pass through multiple countries on their way to the United States.
Biden officials said in late April that they would simultaneously expand legal pathways for immigrants abroad to provide alternatives to entering the United States and discourage illegal crossings.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Biden officials said the administration plans to open more than 100 migration processing centers in the Western Hemisphere and will launch a new online meeting platform in the coming days.
Officials also said they expect Mexico to step up immigration enforcement this week.
Reporting by Ted Hessen in Washington and Christina Cook in San Francisco; Editing by Micah Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis and Jamie Freed
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