Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


San Diego migrant support groups still in the dark on Title 42 plans

People sit in front of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the border fence just west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. May 10, 2023.
Mike Damron
People sit in front of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the border fence just west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. May 10, 2023.
A man with a child speaks to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent. San Ysidro, Calif. May 10, 2023. CBP created a makeshift migrant camp in San Ysidro between the primary and secondary border walls. There are more than 400 migrants in the camp, including asylum seekers. Playing
San Diego migrant support groups still in the dark on Title 42 plans
With Title 42 expiring, experts explain how asylum process works

With 48 hours left before Title 42 is lifted, migrant shelter operators in the San Diego border region say they still don’t know what to expect when the pandemic-era border restriction is lifted on Thursday.

And because the federal government has not given local nonprofits any idea of how many migrants will be allowed to enter San Diego, the relief agencies are concerned that migrants will end up on the streets.

“We don’t know the numbers,” said CEO of Catholic Charities of San Diego Vino Pajanor. “Nobody knows. Your guess is as good as mine.”


Title 42 allowed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to turn away migrants, including asylum seekers, at the border without giving them a chance to see an immigration judge. Once the order is lifted, tens of thousands of migrants will be processed along the entire southern border. Those with asylum claims will be able to present their evidence to CBP officials at border crossings.

The Biden administration plans to use what is known as expedited removal to process many of the migrants.

Under expedited removal, migrants are given a credible interview to establish a basis of an asylum claim. People who pass the interview are allowed into the country, but those who fail are subject to deportation, according to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council.

“The Biden administration has said it’s going to be surging asylum officers and other resources down to the border to carry out these interviews,” he said.

A lot of those interviews will be inside CBP custody, Reichlin-Melnick added.


There will be many people processed in the San Diego border region. Tijuana officials estimate that between 10,000 and 16,000 migrants are in Tijuana waiting to cross the border into San Diego. And though it remains to be seen exactly how many will be processed in the coming days, advocates know from past experience that the vast majority of migrants released into San Diego will not stay here.

“Ninety-eight to 99% of the people who have come through have a final destination of where they want to go,” Pajanor said. “New York, Florida, Chicago or any other place in the United States. They have a contact there — a familial tie — a sponsor or friend or acquaintance.”

But a significant number will be in need of short-term shelter. Catholic Charities has enough capacity for 1,500 migrants in their three shelters — which are in San Diego and Imperial counties, Pajanor said.

Once in San Diego, the average length of stay in a Catholic Charities shelter is between 0.8 and 1.2 days. Staff and volunteers give them food and water and help make travel arrangements to their final destination.

Pajanor is concerned that ICE and CBP will release more migrants than local operators have capacity for. If that happens, men women and children will be dropped off in the streets of San Diego.

“The worst thing that could happen is to have a mother with young kids or a pregnant woman or an elderly person who is sick be dropped off in the street in the middle of the night and they do not know where they are.”

Vulnerable migrants who are already fleeing persecution back home could be particularly at risk in that situation, Pajanor said.

On Sunday, a man killed eight people by ramming his truck into a migrant shelter in El Paso.

Short-term increase

How long the post-Title 42 surge lasts will largely depend on how efficient the federal government is in processing the migrants waiting at crossings along the southern border, Reichlin-Melnick said.

“I think in the short-term we should see a significant increase in migrants crossing the border; these are going to be the migrants who have been waiting for the end of Title 42,” he said. “But once that backlog is cleared out we should see numbers drop significantly.”

Each migrant who makes it through the expedited removal process without being immediately deported will receive a notice to appear in immigration court.

Data show that the majority of migrants in asylum proceedings show up to their immigration court hearings. A University of Pennsylvania study found 95% of people who weren’t detained and filed for asylum or other forms of relief from removal attended all of their court hearings. The study covered 2008 to 2018.

Once migrants start an asylum case in federal immigration court, it will likely be four to five years until their cases are decided. That’s because there is a backlog of more than 2 million cases in the immigration court system.

Critics say this is due to chronic underfunding, because previous presidents have prioritized border enforcement over the immigration court system.

The end result is billions spent on the front-end enforcement that funnels migrants into the immigration court system, but a fraction of that amount on the court system itself.

“The number I keep going back to is the fact that the Trump administration spent over $14 billion on border wall,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “And, at this time, the immigration court budget is only $856 million.”

San Diego migrant support groups still in the dark on Title 42 plans

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.