Paola Alvarez mortgaged her home in Guatemala and paid smugglers $8,000 to shuttle her across Mexico to the U.S. border. But after she and her 7-year-old daughter were delivered into Arizona’s parched wasteland, they were apprehended by Border Patrol agents, who ushered them to the nearby Mexican border city of Nogales.
“Now, I have nothing,” Alvarez, 26, told me this spring in an interview at a Mexican aid agency. “I don’t know where I’ll go.”
Alvarez is just one of nearly 580,000 cases of migrants who experienced similar expulsions during the first six months of this year under an expanded Trump-era policy known as Title 42, government records show.
The numbers are stunning. Just in June, there were 104,309 Title 42 expulsions along the Mexican border, compared to 572 along the Canadian border.
Most of the people were forced into Mexican cities that stretch along the 1,900-mile border. And most of these individuals were not allowed to seek asylum before they were kicked out of the United States, although U.S. law gives them the right to ask for that protection upon entering the country.
In a dramatic shift in U.S. immigration enforcement, the Trump administration insisted that the Title 42 order — issued in March 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control at the administration’s direction — overrode other immigration laws.
President Joe Biden, for the most part, has followed that playbook. He has used Title 42 far more often than Trump and plans to extend it indefinitely, frustrating many lawmakers and immigration activists within his own party.
Even when Biden softened Title 42 by ordering that unaccompanied children should not be expelled, there were more problems: parents stranded in Mexico began telling their children to cross alone into the United States.
Two physicians working as Department of Homeland Security consultants sent a June letter to Congress, criticizing Title 42 for having the “perverse impact” of ripping apart families.
“It not only creates a flow of children into U.S. detention but also results in de facto separation of children from their families,” Drs. Scott A. Allen and Pamela McPherson wrote.
The policy has also been criticized by the head of the United Nations’ refugee program along with leaders of more than 100 humanitarian organizations.
But Congressional Republicans insist that Title 42 is essential, and some Democrats agree.
“I support Title 42,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said in a June news conference in the border city of Laredo, Texas. Laredo’s Democratic mayor echoed Cuellar’s concerns that a quick end to Title 42 could bring chaos to the border.
During her June trip to Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris said Central American governments must do more to stop official corruption, which has been driving people to flee their countries.
In late July, however, Guatemala’s attorney general fired the agency’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. The U.S. State Department denounced the firing and suspended its cooperation with the Guatemalan attorney general’s office.
One positive step that could be taken is to stem funding for the smugglers by imposing better controls on Central American banks. Some have regularly lent money to people like Alvarez.
I spoke to several Guatemalan parents who said they each paid smugglers at least $8,000 that came from mortgaging properties. Banks either don’t ask the right questions before lending or they deliberately ignore where the loan money goes.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is now suing the administration to stop Title 42 expulsions of families. “We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to return to court,” said Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead lawyer on this case. “Families’ lives are at stake.”
Biden must end the cruel policies of his predecessors.