By Rhina Guidos Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While some Catholic immigration advocates hailed the government's April 1 announcement ending Title 42 -- the Trump-era public health measure that has kept some migrants out during the pandemic -- others have voiced alarm about what will happen at the U.S. southern border once the provision is lifted May 23.
"It's very difficult to predict what that migration will (look like) but we are planning for different scenarios," said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in an April 6 interview with CBS News, after being asked whether the Biden administration is preparing for a surge of migrants that could result once Title 42 ends.
Thousands of migrants have waited months at various border crossing points for a chance to petition for asylum once Title 42 ends. Some suspect smugglers will try to move masses of people toward border crossings, encouraged by the news.
By some estimates, thousands have been turned away under the provision, which denied asylum-seekers entry, citing a public health crisis.
Republicans seized the opportunity to pounce on President Joe Biden and the Democrats ahead of midterm elections in November, painting them as encouraging chaos on the border.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said March 24 the lifting of Title 42 "would take our border from its current state of chaos into a whole new level of utter, utter meltdown." Some reports in April said Republicans have been encouraging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to declare any masses resulting from the lifting of Title 42 to be an "invasion" and deploy the National Guard and other authorities to respond.
But now some Democrats, too, are raising concerns.
Though Biden administration officials largely billed Title 42 as a health measure in explaining why they decided not to do away with it after Biden assumed the presidency, members of the Democratic Party spoke about the provision's demise with political concerns.
"Until there is a plan, you got to have secure borders. To do something that might invite a doubling, tripling, quadrupling of numbers at the border, that is not in the best interest of America, that is not in the best interest of the administration, or the people who are trying to go through the process," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a March 31 interview with CNN.
Similar views have been voiced by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona -- all Democrats.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to say on CNN April 3 that rather than extend an open door of welcome toward migrants, which is what many Catholic immigrant advocates have called for, the administration's efforts have, for some time, focused on preventing migrants from leaving their home countries. He called it a focus on the "right to remain" at home.
"We're focused on making sure that people throughout our hemisphere have opportunities at home going forward so they're not faced with this really hard choice of leaving everything behind and try to come to the United States," he said.
Blinken mentioned measures that task the governments of Central American countries with not only keeping their citizens at home, but also preventing other migrants from advancing toward the U.S. through their borders.
"In the near term, the focus I have is trying to make sure that transit countries, in particular, take steps to ensure that ... the folks who might try to come into the United States through their countries can't do that," he said.
The practice sounds similar to something tried out during the Trump administration, which provided economic incentives to countries such as Mexico to keep migrants from advancing toward the U.S.
However, with corruption remaining at the highest levels of government in the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, high unemployment, violence and rising costs because of the coronavirus pandemic, people still decided it was better to leave than to stay.
During the Trump years, some of the third-country border deterrence led to clashes between migrants and authorities at crossings. It also led smugglers to move migrants through less traveled but more dangerous paths, away from authorities.
In an April 5 statement welcoming the end of Title 42, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' migration committee, warned any increase in migrants that might arise at the border isn't a product of the lifting of the measure but a result of the conditions many migrants face at home.
"Let us be clear: Any perceived or actual increase in vulnerable migrants seeking refuge at our border in the coming months will not be a direct result of this change," he said. "Many are already at our door, having been forced to languish in Mexico for an indefinite period of time, unable to avail themselves of the opportunity to seek protection in accordance with U.S. and international law."
He said that persecution, violence, natural disasters "and other root causes of migration" would continue to drive masses of people. Untenable conditions, not a provision, "force people to seek protection until more robust efforts are undertaken to address them," he said.
But the Biden administration, after seeing migrants at the border arrive en masse in early 2021, seemed intent on putting out a clear message that Kamala Harris delivered in June 2021, during her first visit to the region as U.S. vice president: "Do not come."
What will be different, Biden administration officials vow, is the treatment that migrants will receive, even if they don't receive the result they want.
"What distinguishes us from the past is the fact that we will not implement policies of cruelty and disregard our asylum laws," Mayorkas said in his CBS interview. "We are rebuilding a system that was entirely dismantled."
When asked whether there's a double standard that allows for Ukrainian refugees who are starting to show up at the border to enter the U.S., Mayorkas answered: "There is not."
"So, what we do, on an individualized basis, is evaluate whether a Ukrainian family, and frankly other families from other countries, qualify for our discretionary authority of granting humanitarian parole," he told CBS. "And that's not specific to just Ukrainians. We apply that across the board."