April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2
DHS: CBP, ICE, USCIS
Border. The Customs and Border Protection agency encountered 1.9 million unauthorized foreigners in calendar year 2021, including 178,000 in December 2021, exceeding the previous record of 1.6 million in calendar year 2000. Over 1.7 million foreigners were encountered by the CBP in FY21, including a record 213,000 in July 2021.
The CBP has since March 2020 returned most solo adults intercepted just inside the US border to Mexico under Title 42 of the Public Health Act, which allows turnarounds to keep covid out of the US; some 1.7 million foreigners were expelled under Title 42 in two years. The DC Court of Appeals in March 2022 ruled that CBP must first determine that any families it expels back to Mexico under Title 42 will not face persecution or torture, prompting CBP to allow more families to apply for asylum and remain in the US until their case is resolved.
The CDC plans to end Title 42 in May 2022, which is expected to produce a wave of up to 20,000 migrants a day who apply for asylum, including thousands of Haitians who stopped entering the US after some were removed to Haiti. A $10 billion bill to fight covid was delayed as Republicans and some Democrats insisted that Title 42 not be repealed when appropriately more money to fight covid.
Smugglers have been telling foreigners in Mexico that President Biden has relaxed enforcement. CBP encountered over 200,000 foreigners just inside the US border with Mexico in March 2022, an average of 7,000 a day, and almost 900,000 in the first six months of FY22; 45 percent of those encountered in March 2022 were Mexicans.
Over 400,000 of the foreigners encountered by CBP were allowed into the US in 2021, including a quarter who were given notices to register with ICE within 60 days of reaching their US destination. Many of these foreigners failed to register with ICE. Once registered by CBP or ICE, foreigners who have applied for asylum may obtain work permits, SSNs, and driver’s licenses in most states.
CBP in March 2022 announced that it would vaccinate unauthorized foreigners encountered just inside the US border, and seek to remove solo adults who refuse vaccination. Families that apple for asylum and refuse to be vaccinated can be released with monitoring devices.
Under the 1997 Flores settlement and subsequent amendments, foreign children under 18 cannot be held by CBP for more than 72 hours. Those encountered are turned over to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which tries to place them with parents or relatives in the US or sends them to juvenile care facilities pending the outcome of their immigration proceedings.
Almost 108,000 foreign children were released to foreign sponsors in FY21, up from 73,000 in FY19. A third of these foreign children are age 17, and half are from Guatemala.
Many Central Americans and other migrants are intercepted in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, where they apply for asylum so that they can travel through Mexico to the US border. Over 131,000 foreigners applied for asylum in Mexico in 2021, including 40 percent Haitians. Over two-thirds of the asylum applications are filed in Tapachula, prompting protests in February 2022 from migrants who said they had to wait months for decisions on their applications.
President Trump built 450 miles of new barriers on the Mexico-US border, most on public land in Arizona and New Mexico, using $15 billion that was appropriated by Congress and other funds taken from the military budget. President Biden stopped construction of the border wall, and in spring 2022 faced decisions on what to do with the partially built wall. Most migrants enter the US illegally via private land along the Rio Grande River in Texas.
A wooden freighter carried 356 mostly young Haitian men to the Florida Keys in March 2022, running aground near the shore. Most Haitians try to enter the US via Mexico, but more may try to reach the US via the sea route. In January 2022, a boat with 40 migrants left Bimini, a chain of small islands in the Bahamas that is the closest to Florida, and capsized with one survivor. People on boats that are intercepted at sea by the US Coast Guard are returned to Haiti.
ICE. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency enforces immigration laws inside the US and detains foreigners who are awaiting deportation. ICE has over 20,000 employees and an annual budget of over $20 billion.
ICE deported 59,000 foreigners in FY21, down from 186,000 in FY21. The sharp drop in deportations reflects the changing priorities of the Biden administration, which shifted the agency’s focus to foreigners convicted of US crimes and recent entries. Title 42 allows the US to return foreigners to Mexico rather admitting them and later deporting them.
ICE detained an average 19,000 foreigners in FY21, a new low, and planned for 25,000 detention beds in 2022-23, down from the current 34,000. ICE says that its new priorities are quality over quantity, that is, focusing on the worst offenders and releasing other foreigners with monitoring devices. Critics say that Biden is pandering to those who want to halt deportations.
The US Supreme Court heard arguments in April 2022 over the Migrant Protection Protocols or Remain in Mexico program, which since 2019 has required non-Mexican asylum seekers who arrive at the Mexico-US border to wait in Mexico for a hearing on their case. The Biden administration sought to end the program, which resulted in federal court orders to continue Remain in Mexico because of the impact on states of allowing asylum seekers into the US.
USCIS. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency relies on paper records, some of which are stored at the Federal Records Centers in limestone caves under Kansas City that have been closed due to covid. USCIS has some 80 million paper records of foreigners seeking immigration benefits, and has difficulty finding some of them.
USCIS in February 2022 announced a new “public charge” regulation to clarify that foreigners who receive means-tested federal health, food, and housing benefits would still be able to obtain immigrant visas. By interpreting public charge narrowly as being dependent on federal cash assistance, more foreigners who are eligible for other safety net benefits may access them.
USCIS in March 2022 proposed that USCIS asylum officers rather than DOJ immigration judges decide some asylum applications, reducing the time from application to decision from five years to six months. There are 670,000 pending asylum applications among the 1.7 million cases pending in immigration courts.
USCIS will hire and train more asylum officers to deal with migrants who tell the CBP officers they encounter that they have a credible fear of returning to their country of citizenship. Some migrant advocates fear that USCIS asylum officers will not give asylum applicants full due process.
The US airlifted 80,000 Afghans from the country in August 2021, and 76,000 were in the US in winter 2022. Another 40,000 Afghans inside Afghanistan and in neighboring countries have applied to enter the US on humanitarian parole, which provides a path for about 500 foreigners a year to enter the US without a visa. The US is giving priority to those eligible for Special Immigrant Visas because they worked directly for the US government and those who have a US citizen child or parent to sponsor them.