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The U.S. immigration story you may not have heard about

On May 11, Title 42, the U.S. provision restricting migrants wishing to come to the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, ended  Once this provision was lifted, many thought that the U.S.-Mexico border would be inundated with tens of thousands of asylum seekers. That was not the case.  Instead, there was a drastic reduction in people showing up.  What happened and why did this surge not occur?

The Biden administration initiated a series of new immigration policies meant to deter illegal border crossings while opening new legal pathways for those who qualify for entry.  They also strengthened the administrative capacity to process migrant applications and monitor US borders. Their goal is to create a rational, orderly process of immigrant screening and processing while preventing the chaos so familiar on the Southern border. So far it seems to be working.  The New York Times reported in March 2022 that 7,100 persons were stopped at the border.  That dropped to 3,360 in June 2023.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Building Administrative Capacity

1. The Administration has added asylum officers and judges in Central America to expedite the processing of asylum seekers. The first centers to open are in Guatemala and Columbia with more planned in the future. 

2. The administration has deployed 1,500 active-duty military personnel and thousands of private contractors to the Southern border.  These individuals are providing administrative support such as data processing and warehouse support. This has freed up border agents to monitor the border and prevent illegal entries.  The military personnel will conclude their participation at the end of August.

3.  Asylum seekers can now apply for asylum in the U.S., Canada, or Spain. The Administration is currently looking to add additional counties to this list including Mexico.

Opening Legal Immigration Pathways

1. The Administration had developed a phone application process for those seeking asylum.  The app is open 23 hours a day and can handle about 1,200 appointments daily.  This is the new, expedited process to request asylum.

2.  The Administration is allowing up to 30,000 Haitians, Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans to apply for humanitarian parole if they have U.S. sponsors.  Those who qualify can receive work permits for two years.

Deterring Illegal Border Crossings

1. The Administration is now levying fines and penalties for those attempting to cross the border illegally.  Penalties can be anywhere from six months to two years in prison for those who cross illegally.  Fines are elevated for those with criminal records or for those who re-enter illegally.

2.  Those who do not qualify for entry are sent back to Mexico.  Also, under a new agreement with the Mexican government, they will be deported several hundred miles to the Southern Mexican border.

3.  Those seeking asylum, who have traveled through other countries, are now required to request asylum in at least one of those countries before seeking asylum in the U.S.  The Administration is also currently working with the Mexican government to take more immigrants.

4.  Custom and Border patrol agents have been assigned to monitor migration routes to discourage migrants from taking dangerous routes through Central America to the Southern border.

All of these measures provide some order and rationality to our immigration system.  However, they do not solve the issue of our antiquated system. The U.S. needs a complete, comprehensive immigration overhaul.  The present law has not been changed since 1986.  For instance, the U.S. is in dire need of skilled individuals in fields such as software engineering, sciences, and mathematics.  Yet we allow only 85,000 of these individuals yearly.  Canada, a country one-tenth the size of the U.S., allows 250,000.  How can we continue to compete globally if we discourage entry of this kind of talent?

President Biden’s policies will not solve the immigration problem. Migration to the U.S. is going to continue.  The drivers are still there – poverty, climate change, violence, and political instability.  Providing legal paths for more immigrants, either for temporary work or permanent citizenship, is the best way to secure the border and provide for the future prosperity of the United States.  Congress has to take the lead to create a dignified, workable system that meets the needs of the 21st century.   

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Tom Deloe is a retired federal employee and lives with his wife in Cumberland Township.

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