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Roundtable: What end of Title 42 could mean for U.S.-Mexico border

 November 18, 2022 at 12:30 PM PST

S1: A major immigration policy gets struck down in court again. We're looking at the state of the border in San Diego. I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. This week , a federal judge ruled to end Title 42. It's a pandemic era public health order that the U.S. has used over 2 million times to expel migrants following a request by the Biden administration. The policy will remain in place until December 21st. Meanwhile , the U.S. is reporting over 230,000 migrants were stopped along the border in October. That's the third highest number of President Biden's administration. This week on roundtable , we're looking at the state of immigration along the US-Mexico border and seeing how changes in federal policy and leadership are impacting the San Diego Tijuana region. Joining us this week are three of San Diego's leading border reporters. Kate Morrissey covers immigration for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Elliot Baggett is the U.S. immigration team lead and San Diego correspondent with the Associated Press. And KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis is here with us. I want to thank you all so much for being here on roundtable and coming back on roundtable. But let's start big picture here. Title 42 allows border officials to turn away migrants on the grounds of preventing COVID 19. Elliot , you had a piece this week and you wrote If this judge's ruling to remove it stands that border enforcement would be upended.

S2: But in practice , it has fallen mostly on certain nationalities , and that would be Mexicans , Hondurans , Salvadorans , Guatemalans , recently Venezuelans. And the reason for that is Mexico will take them back. And so it's very easy for the United States to literally it takes them an hour or maybe 2 hours , maybe a little bit more to just pick someone up to take them back to Mexico. Whereas with other countries , you have to detain people , fly them back to their countries. And in certain places , you know , the largest nationalities two , three and four , second , third and fourth are Cuba , Venezuela and Nicaragua. Those are three countries that do not accept their people back. So as a result , those those people of those nationalities are released into the United States to pursue the immigration status. So that is , you know , it's a it's a seismic change , a big change. And on December 21st , we don't know what's going to happen. But presumably CBP at least is planning for larger numbers , particularly those country to those other nationalities that have been affected by Title 42 , the Hondurans , the Salvadorans , etc. , to to come in greater numbers.


S3: Title 42 has also meant that people are turned back at ports of entry. Asylum claims are generally not processed there unless they apply for these special Title 42 exemptions , which is a process that that came about earlier this year. But. But someone who is seeking asylum can't just walk up to CBP at the port of entry and say , Hey , I'm fleeing my country. Can you process my asylum claim ? So with this change , we expect that to be once again something that people can do as an option instead of crossing between ports of entry , instead of putting them at the in sort of these greater , riskier paths and sort of going to Border Patrol , we do expect that that people will be will be trying to come to the ports of entry. It remains to be seen how the ports of entry will respond. Prior to Title 42 , there were other policies that sort of turned back asylum seekers or told them , you know , there's not enough room right now , come back later , you have to wait. And we do have a ruling that's that's come out during Title 42 saying that those kinds of turnbacks are not in line with U.S. law. But we have yet to see sort of how CBP is going to negotiate that once Title 42 goes away. So that's something I'm going to really be keeping an eye on. But , you know , in talking with asylum seekers and folks who have been waiting , a lot of them would prefer to come in through the port of entry if that is an option.

S4: And I think just jumping on both of these points for a little bit , I think it's really important to keep in mind the the impact that Title 42 has had on apprehensions. Right , Matt ? I mean , you led with an accurately like record number of apprehensions , 2.4 , 2.2 million this year. Couple of hundred thousand in October alone. Title 42 is driving a lot of that because and it's worth noting , every time you say apprehensions does not mean like individuals , right ? Like we didn't apprehend 2.4 million people along the border. We just apprehended people that many times. And that's because Title 42 created this revolving door. Like Elliot said , with Title 42 , you're turned around , you're not processed , you're not officially deported. It's almost like like a catch and release , right ? You come to the border and you're sent back to Mexico without really any legal consequence. So you turn around and do it again. I've talked to people in Mexico who have crossed. Five , ten , 15 times in a week. So you can just kind of get a picture of how this policy is driving up those enforcement numbers. And then once Title 42 is lifted , like Elliot's right , there's a lot of people at the border right now waiting to kind of cross. I wouldn't call it a new wave of immigration as people who have been waiting a couple of years for Title 42 to go away. It's kind of like this self-made backlog in a way that that we keep on kind of sweeping it under the rug. And then when we lift the rug , we shouldn't be surprised that that there's a lot of people under there , you know.

S1: And , Kate , you've been covering Title 42 and it's sort of ever changing implementation. Can you briefly give us some background here ? Like , how has it been used ? And as Eliot alluded to , it sounds like it wasn't like a universal policy.

S3: That's right. It's definitely affected certain nationalities much more strongly than others. We have seen different nationalities being affected at different times. When Title 42 first came out back in 2020. It was , I would say , a little bit chaotic in terms of being able to figure out who all was was being sent back to Mexico. What we heard officially from Mexico at the time was that they were only receiving folks from Mexico , Honduras , El Salvador and Guatemala. But we were interviewing people from Haiti who had been expelled. And so it was difficult at first to really understand what was happening in the last couple of years as things have become a little bit more transparent in in terms of what those those policies are. It has largely affected Mexicans , Hondurans , Guatemalans , Salvadorans. There was a moment where Nicaraguans and Cubans were also being expelled to Mexico and Mexico very briefly agreed to take those nationalities back and now has agreed to take Venezuelans back. There was also a moment where the United States convinced Colombia to take Venezuelans who had spent time in Colombia. And so we were seeing instances of Venezuelans being expelled to Colombia. And how those those expulsions have worked has also taken a lot of different sort of forms. Over the years , we've seen when Mexico has said , you know , you can't expel families with children under a certain age to this particular part of the border because we don't think we can guarantee their safety there. The United States has said , okay , well , we'll fly them to another part of the border and expel them. And so , you know , we covered pretty extensively when when families were getting flown from Texas to San Diego to be expelled to Tijuana. And they'd never been to Tijuana before in their lives. Many times they were being expelled without their belongings. Their belongings had been thrown away by Border Patrol back in Texas , and they were being expelled here. That happened early on last year , then paused , then restarted last fall. We're now seeing Venezuelans on similar flight patterns. It's transformed a lot in terms of exactly how it's affected people. But the sort of overall theme of it has has been very much separating the experience at the border based on nationality.

S1: And , Elliot , you want to jump in here ? Yeah.

S2: A friend of mine , a reporter at the Dallas Morning News , Dan. So he's called Title 42 Swiss cheese in the sense that there's so many there's so many ways to get around it if you're of a certain nationality. And I've seen people , you know , Hondurans who are in really desperate situations , you know , fleeing oppression and they cannot get in. And then I see Peruvians or Colombians who are coming and they're very upfront about it , just just for jobs. They're not facing any oppression. And they get they get in right away. So I think what it really points to is , you know , a total failure of imagination on the part of U.S. government since since 2014 , which is when we saw that first large scale arrival of Central American children seeking asylum. The numbers keep getting bigger and there's no policy answer for it. Title 42 is really you know , when Biden came in , he got rid of most of Trump's policies , most notably the Remain in Mexico , where people had to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings in the United States. But in Title 42 is the one that , you know , that he kept that he held on to for a while. But it really hasn't it hasn't addressed the problem at all , which is really that the United States has not decided who it wants to let in. It does not have a functioning asylum system to give , you know , due process , but also a way to ensure that those who are most vulnerable get in and the ones that are least vulnerable who don't , you know , are coming just for work , that they if you know , if we choose that they are , they're expelled.

S1: You're listening to KPBS roundtable. We're talking immigration and border news this week. Our guests are Kate Morrissey from the San Diego Union-Tribune , Elliot Baggett from the Associated Press , and Gustavo Solis from KPBS News. And Gustavo , we've sort of talked a lot about how a lot of these decisions , they come from Washington , D.C. And along those lines , on the policy front , this week , we learned that Republicans will indeed be taking control of the House , while Democrats will keep a thin majority in the Senate.

S4: Right. The biggest piece of legislation arguably has been DOCA , which isn't really legislation. It's an executive action that is still kind of in limbo for a lot of people. The rhetoric might change a little bit. But yeah , I don't know. William and Kate might have more insight on this , but I feel like if if the Republicans have the House and the Democrats have the Senate and the executive branch , I mean , during the last two years , the Democrats have all three and they didn't do anything with immigration. So what's to tell us that now all of a sudden something will change ? Hopefully I'm wrong because there does need to be a change , both for asylum seekers in Mexico , undocumented people here , DOCA recipients here. Even on the business front , I mean , how many times do we hear people complaining about how hard and timely it is to get employment visas over here ? Right. That something that still needs to be addressed. And there doesn't seem to be a lot of will in Washington. I mean , both parties just kind of talk about it. They both acknowledge that immigration is a broken system. They both raise a lot of money off of the border. And whether it's open or closed and whether everyone is , you know , human is illegal and that kind of rhetoric , but it doesn't translate to policy on the ground. So I'm skeptical.

S2: I would agree with that. The one possible area of movement is DOCA. DOCA recipients have been living from court ruling to court ruling for four years now , and it looks like time could be running out. There's a judge in Texas who who ruled that Dhaka is illegal. It's tied up in the courts right now and it might , you know , be expected to go to the Supreme Court. I think it's I understand the earliest it might be decided would be June of of this year if the court if the Supreme Court takes the case. So if it runs out , if they run out of time. The Democrats , you know , and quite a few Republicans , I think , at least privately support it. There might be some movement on that front to to provide some even in the lame duck session , to provide some permanent protection.

S3: I think I would agree with Gustavo. I've for a year now been in a very much I'll believe it when I see it sort of plays with what Congress is going to do with with anything related to immigration. It does seem to be something that's more politically useful to folks on both sides. When it's not working , then they seem to think that it is to actually do something to make a change. And , you know , we've seen several attempts at some kind of immigration reform that were bipartisan , you know , back in the day. And even those didn't make it when , you know , we've known for years that that DOCA was something that is in trouble and could be going away. And , you know , these past two years , we didn't really see anything happen on that either. So if it happens , we'll report on it then. But I'm I'm not going to make any predictions that it's coming.

S4: I do think if anything happens , it'll be like within a year. I think if we get closer to the presidential election , everyone will be very , very reluctant to talk and cast votes on this. I think it has to happen sooner rather than later , if it happens at all.

S1: And again , DOCA is a policy that's meant to protect immigrants who came to the country as children. And Elliot , there has been some changes out of Washington , D.C. the head of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection , he's out of a job this week.

S2: The head of the largest law enforcement agency of the United States , as Kate and others have reported , he was known as sort of a reformer and outsider. He had been the police chief of Tucson , Arizona , and decades in law enforcement. And , you know , police chiefs have to be probably more than Border Patrol agents , ambassadors to the community , because they rely on everyone , including people who are here undocumented , to report crimes. And so he had he was much more you know , he had it more of an open door with advocates. He was very I I'd interviewed him once. And , you know , the one time he really , really perked up in the interview was when he talked about his decision to. Revised policies to four feet for vehicle pursuits to make it to make it harder for Border Patrol agents to to engage in vehicle chases. It wasn't really that much less engaged , I think , on the on the sort of operational aspects. And some people think that's just the way it should be. But he got pushed out. You know , I'm still reporting it out , but he didn't get along with many of the Border Patrol and also had a fair amount of detractors in the White House. So I think he just became , you know , isolated and perhaps a scapegoat for the high numbers that we've been talking about.

S1: And we know that all of this is happening on a backdrop of a record number of illegal border crossings , 2.38 million encounters during a one year period. And as Gustavo pointed out , that doesn't necessarily mean people , but 2.3 million encounters. Do we know why numbers have increased ? General question Anybody can feel free to jump in here.

S4: Let me I think we talked a little bit about it before , right ? Title 42 is definitely driving up the number of repeat apprehensions. But I mean , there's more to it , right ? Just the general state of of some countries in Central and South America right now. Right. There's we talk about income inequality here in the U.S. There's even greater income inequality in the global stage. Right. There are oppressive governments that , unfortunately , in the past , the U.S. has kind of destabilized some countries in Central America. And now we're getting waves of immigration from those areas. I know for Mexico , a big driver now is is violence. Right. There's a big violent problem in Mexico and people are fleeing , um , to avoid for their lives , which in the context of asylum doesn't give them a strong case to get asylum , you need to prove that you're being targeted on very specific grounds. And just general crime isn't one of them. So they may not win the asylum case , but that doesn't stop them from coming over here and trying to do it anyway. I think we're seeing more and more now that even climate change is starting to be a driver , right ? Not even like directly , but there's people who are farmers who live in places where there are droughts now and it's no longer viable for them to farm. So so there's a ton of issues on why every individual has their own different story.

S2: I think it's a very important point you make , because it's not it's not all U.S. policy. Absolutely. I mean , the hurricanes in Honduras that happened in 2019 , Haiti is in just total disarray there. The president , you know , being assassinated last year , the oppressive governments in Venezuela , Nicaragua , Cuba. So it's a lot more to it than U.S. policy.

S3: One , I think even when you look at organizations that study like how authoritarian leaning different countries are or are becoming , like those , those reports are getting more and more dire even when you're looking at countries around the world and sort of the level of control that governments are taking over their people , which , you know , might not matter to every single person in that country. But if you're someone who's part of the opposition , that that could very well end up making you a target. And that would be a very classic asylum case. Right. Textbook asylum case. You're being targeted by your government for your political opinion. And so we do see , I think , a rise , a rise in that as well from a number of countries. I mean , even just looking at , you know , the reports that are coming out about how many people who were working in the Guatemalan government on corruption have now been exiled to the United States. We're talking about judges. We're talking about prosecutors who have had to flee for their lives just just from there. And that's that's one example among many of that's happening around the world.

S1: We know that San Diego nonprofits , they've been stepping up to temporarily house and help those who are able to cross the border.

S3: I would say most people who cross the border here , there , their goal isn't to stay in San Diego. Their goal is to go somewhere else so these organizations receive them. And after working with whoever is going to be receiving them in the city where they're headed , get them , get them on their way to their final destinations. And so when you're talking about that , you're talking about the San Diego Rapid Response Network Shelter , which is largely operated by Jewish Family Service. And then you've got another operation from Catholic Charities. They generally , generally split so that the folks who are being processed at the port of entry , either because they tried to cross , you know , through the car lanes at the port of entry or they came through the Title 42 exemption process that I mentioned , those folks are generally going to the Rapid response network shelter. And then the folks that are apprehended by Border Patrol are generally going to Catholic Charities , but they kind of work , as you know , if one has more space than the other one , then they might take. From from either either entity. So they're working. It sounds like very much in collaboration on that. They have been pretty busy lately and I think their populations are a little bit different just based on who they're generally receiving. You know , I still hear about a lot of , for example , Russians coming through the Jewish Family Service , San Diego Rapid Response Network Shelter. A lot of those folks choose to to go through either the Title 42 exemption process or over the past year we've seen a lot of Russians in particular getting cars and driving onto U.S. soil through the car lanes , which is a whole separate conversation that we could have. So I do think there's there's some distinctions in how things are happening. But both both have sounded very busy lately.

S2: I was going to say there's also a very robust network in Tijuana of of NGOs that probably , you know , Otro Lado is probably the largest one I know that they had earlier this year. They were managing a waiting list of people to who were trying to get exemptions to Title 42 , and it was 50,000 , 50,000 people on this online waiting list. And there's also there , I believe it's three shelters right now that are managing these exemptions. And I was at one of them a few weeks ago. It's the largest shelter in Tijuana and maybe even Mexico and borders the Jesus. And everyone was getting in. It didn't matter what exemption you had , you would wait two or three weeks. They didn't ask you if you were LGBT or pregnant or had a medical issue. You were going to get it no matter what. And buses go by each day. The Tijuana's migrant services director told me that in San Jose drove CBP is allowing 180 people a day to come in exempt from Title 42. And so people were coming to his shelter just for that reason. They didn't need like there were some Haitians who have apartments in Tijuana , but they they went to the shelter just because they wanted to get that in , to get on the bus to come into the United States.

S1: And as we wrap up the show here , I want to get your final thoughts and this question for everyone. What do you guys think will ultimately be the lasting legacy of Title 42 and its impact on San Diego ? And Gustavo , we can start with you.

S4: Well , I think in terms of legacy , I think Eliot kind of touched on it in the beginning that that it kind of underscores the lack of policy to deal with the the new type of migrants that we're seeing at the southern border. Right. It's just another example of the federal government kind of kicking the can down the road and putting these temporary measures in the absence of a more permanent and really just better solution. Right. I mean , Title 42 , if you remember , started out as a as a public health orders in the pandemic to stop the spread of COVID 19. When was the last time someone mentioned COVID 19 in the context of Title 42 ? Like , they just completely abandoned the original premise for the policy and now is kind of solely seen as this border enforcement policy. In terms of impact on San Diego , I'm I'm not sure if it will have long lasting impact just because of the transitory nature of migration. Right. As Kate said , people coming through the border , they'll the majority of them have family or relatives or friends in other parts of the country. So San Diego is just kind of like a like a stopping point. It's not a destination , though , here for a couple days or a couple of weeks at most. And then they connect with their families in Northern California , Texas , Oklahoma , New York , Ohio , anywhere. So in terms of long lasting impact in San Diego , I don't know that there will be one.


S2: I think he was really , really hit the nail on the head. Just another example of of of a of an enormous problem that , you know , just the our policymakers just don't seem to have a grip on what what to do about it in the long term. As Gustavo said , just kicking the can down the road in ways that are very ineffective and unfair.

S1: And , Kate , some brief last words here.

S3: I would say I'm still kind of watching to to see how else the idea of Title 42 might come back. We as a country have a very long history of deterrence policies that take different forms and shapes. This iteration of Title 42 appears to be going away to some in December. There's another lawsuit out there that's trying to keep Title 42 around. I don't know how this ruling is going to interact with that lawsuit. I don't know what's going to happen if that eventually goes up to the Supreme Court. We have also seen legislators trying to codify some version of expulsions into law. So it's going away kind of. But I think the concept behind it is very much a part of what has been the United States larger strategy on migration. For a long time , which is to deter. And I don't see that going away. So I'm waiting to see what that will mean. And I think when you're talking about where they're feeling the effects. You just go to Tijuana , you know , like with with the amount of people that they have been asked to sort of have waiting in their city. And and , you know , these spaces all along the border , when you're talking about Mexican , the Mexican side , I think that's where you're really seeing the effects of it.

S1: We're going to have to end the discussion there. Much more to come and a lot of question marks still remaining. I want to thank our guest , Kate Morrissey , Elliott's Bagot and Gustavo Solis. Be sure to stream roundtable any time as a podcast. Our show is produced by Andrew Bracken and Adrian Villalobos is our technical director. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and have a great weekend.

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Four men from Cuba try to keep warm after crossing the border from Mexico and surrendering to authorities to apply for asylum on Nov. 3, 2022, near Yuma, Ariz.
Gregory Bull
Four men from Cuba try to keep warm after crossing the border from Mexico and surrendering to authorities to apply for asylum on Nov. 3, 2022, near Yuma, Ariz.
A federal judge's decision to end the pandemic-era border policy known as Title 42 could have lasting impacts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about the state of immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Guests include San Diego Union-Tribune immigration reporter Kate Morrissey, Associated Press immigration team lead Elliot Spagat and KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis.