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October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4

DHS: Border, Haitians

Chris Magnus was named to head the Customs and Border Protection agency. His nomination was placed on hold in July 2021 by Democrats who want DHS to explain its role in dealing with protests in Portland in summer 2020 and by Republicans who want the Biden Administration to explain the strategy to deal with unauthorized entries over the Mexico-US border.

Border. The number of unauthorized foreigners encountered just inside the Mexico-US border topped 1.7 million in FY21, the most ever and twice the number in FY19. There were over 200,000 encounters between Border Patrol agents and unauthorized foreigners in both July and August 2021, an average of 6,700 a day or 280 an hour.

Many of the foreigners are recidivists, meaning that the same person was encountered by the Border Patrol within the previous 12 months. The Border Patrol returns solo Mexicans to Mexico immediately under Title 42 of the Public Health Act, and many try again to enter the US.

In August 2020, the Border Patrol returned 90 percent of the 47,282 foreigners encountered inside the US to Mexico under Title 42 of the Public Health Act; 10 were permitted into the US. In August 2021, some 195,558 foreigners were encountered and 47 percent were returned under Title 42, and 40 percent were allowed into the US and given a court date to determine if they can remain in the US.

A third of the 188,829 unauthorized foreigners encountered just inside the Mexico-US border in June 2021, including 178,000 encountered by Border Patrol agents, were recidivists. Some 50,000 were families with children and 15,000 were unaccompanied teens. In July 2021, these numbers rose to 76,000 and 19,000, and 27 percent of those apprehended were recidivists.

There were 17,000 migrant children in custody in August 2021. Advocates complained that the government was not satisfying the terms of the 1997 Flores settlement that requires unauthorized children to be released to state-licensed facilities within 72 hours. Migrant children are in custody an average one month before being released to US relatives.

During summer 2021, some migrants encountered in border areas were released without court dates by overwhelmed Border Patrol agents. Others were returned to Central America in an expedited removal process after they failed to provide evidence of credible fear or persecution at home. In August 2021, DHS proposed that asylum officers who determine whether foreigners intercepted at the border have a credible fear of persecution should also determine whether they need asylum in the US.

Asylum officers decide applications from foreigners who are inside the US and make offensive or affirmative applications, meaning the foreigner is in the US on a student or tourist visa and applies for refugee status. The proposed regulation would allow asylum officers to decide defensive asylum cases at the border, where foreigners who are apprehended seek to avoid removal by arguing that they need asylum in the US.

The back log of cases in US immigration courts was 1.3 million in summer 2021, including 620,000 asylum cases. The purpose of the new regulation is to speed up decisions on asylum cases so that those rejected for asylum can be removed quickly.

Under Title 42 of the Public Health Act, the US since March 2020 has been returning most adults who are encountered just inside the US to Mexico to avoid spreading coronavirus. CBP planned to end Title 42 turn-arounds in summer 2021, but the delta variant and the upsurge in solo men and families kept Title 42 in place.

A federal judge in September 2021 ordered the Biden Administration to end Title 42 turnarounds of migrant families at the border. Under Title 42, some 1.1 million unauthorized foreigners have been turned around, including 120,000 people traveling in family units.

Until 2014, most people apprehended just inside the Mexico-US border were Mexicans; in 2014, Central Americans outnumbered Mexicans. In summer 2021, the number of unauthorized migrants from other countries increased sharply, including Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Venezuelans and Haitians, so that non-Mexicans and non-Central Americans were 20 percent of those encountered in the first 10 months of FY21 compared with 42 percent Central Americans. Many arrived in families, making them more difficult to return.

The Trump Administration introduced Migration Protection Protocols in 2019 that require asylum applicants to remain in Mexico until immigration judges could hear their cases. President Biden suspended the remain in Mexico program on his first day in office, but the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision in July 2021 that ordered remain in Mexico to continue until proper rulemaking is conducted.

Haitians. Haitians who fled their country for various Latin American countries after the 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people began to move through Mexico to the US in September 2021, creating a camp of 15,000 people under the Del Rio International Bridge 150 miles west of San Antonio.

The Biden Administration gave temporary protected status to 150,000 Haitians who were in the US on July 29, 2021, and allowed those who arrived illegally in summer 2021 to remain in the US and work legally while their asylum applications were pending.

Smugglers and US-based relatives told Haitians living in South American countries that they would be welcomed into the US if they crossed the Mexico-US border, prompting some who had jobs in Brazil and Chile to pay $5,000 to be taken to the US. Many Haitians were accepted by South American countries after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Chile hosted 182,000 Haitians at the end of 2020 after many arrived in 2017-18.

The US has a million Haitian-born residents, many in Miami, Boston and New York. Almost 30,000 Haitians were encountered by the Border Patrol in FY21.

To discourage the Haitians from seeking asylum in the US, DHS flew 7,000 Haitians to Haiti, prompting another 7,000 more who were camped under the Del Rio bridge to return to Mexico. The remaining Haitians were allowed into the US to join their relatives while they wait for their asylum cases to be heard.

Advocates decried the Haitian return flights, arguing that the assassination of the Haitian president in July 2021 and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August 2021 made Haiti unsafe. President Biden was especially enraged by photos of Border Patrol agents on horseback who tried to prevent Haitians from entering the US.

Several hundred thousand Haitians moved to South American countries after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Many believe there is more opportunity in the US, and up to 100,000 were reportedly attempting to move to the US in Fall 2021, traveling by bus to Colombia, by boat from Necocli to Acandi, Panama, and then moving through the Isthmus of Panama or the Darien Gap, the 66 roadless miles of the uncompleted Pan-American Highway.

Within Haiti, there was a wave of kidnappings in Fall 2021 as gangs linked to politicians tried to extract money from those who accumulated monies to emigrate. By some measures, Haiti had the world’s highest kidnapping rate, as over 100 people a month were taken for ransom. Some businesses sent staff to work remotely from other countries.

ICE. DHS in October 2021 ended “mass worksite operations” that lead to the arrest of unauthorized workers, saying that workplace enforcement would instead focus on employers who exploit such workers. DHS told its agencies to strengthen E-Verify “to ensure it is not misused as a tool of exploitative labor practices.”

USCIS. The US admitted 707,362 immigrants in FY20, down from 1,031,765 in FY19.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency receives up to 10 million applications for immigration benefits each year. Longer forms, policy changes and Covid have increased the time required for USCIS to make decisions. USCIS is largely a self-funded agency, receiving over 95 percent of its annual budget from fees charged to applicants for immigration benefits.

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