Last week, the Mexican government abruptly stopped readmitting Central American migrant families who were removed from the U.S. border under Title 42 — a public health order that enables U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to quickly send illegal immigrants back to Mexico in order to mitigate risks from COVID-19.
The Mexican government is now only accepting the returns of single adults, while families are to be released into the interior of the United States. History has shown that “catch and release” practices fuel border and humanitarian crises, increase our illegal immigrant population and can exacerbate public health risks amidst a global pandemic. This decision by the Mexican government presents the Biden administration with its first big test of Mexico’s role as a cooperative partner in addressing mass migration flows.
The obstruction of Title 42 will only fuel another border and humanitarian crisis — something that cannot be afforded at this time (or really ever).
The change in Mexico’s policy, which effectively undermines the public health intent of Title 42, will inevitably lead to catch and release, a phenomenon that contributed to the border crises seen in 2014 and 2019. Migrants fully understood that coming with a child in tow to the U.S. border was an effective mechanism to remain permanently in the country due to judicially imposed limits on detention of family units (many of which turned out not to be actual families).
Not only did the country witness record surges of migrant families, it also tragically saw the exploitation of children. During these times, human traffickers and smugglers took advantage of thousands of migrant children as they knew arriving to the border as a so-called family unit would be an automatic way to get released into the country.
The drastic policy change made by Mexico may have already caught the attention of the Biden administration. Reports recently indicate that the administration intends to build an overflow migrant detention facility at the southern border likely in preparation for this ensuing border crisis.
Short-circuiting the Title 42 order will also increase our illegal alien population and ultimately strain the nation’s limited resources amidst a weakened economy and global pandemic. Moreover, it will induce a massive new flow of migrants transiting through Mexico that will pose health risks to their nation as well as ours.
It has been definitively proven that if apprehended migrants at the border are released into the interior of the country — rather than immediately removed or placed in detention — they will disappear. In fact, a pilot Department of Homeland Security program found that 90% of asylum seekers do not appear for their asylum hearings when released into our interior.
These types of catch and release policies have helped contribute to the growth of our nation’s illegal alien population — which has increased by some three million from 2010 with many eventually end up using welfare programs at a higher rate than U.S. citizens and native households.
Aside from the economic impact, failing to fully comply with Title 42 ensures that public health risks remain unmitigated. The vast majority of illegal immigrants arriving at our southern border are also coming from regions hit hard by COVID-19. Texas has already acknowledged this public health risk and recently sent 10,000 COVID-19 tests to McAllen to help mitigate the spread at the border.
The Biden administration is now presented with a unique challenge. It has an obligation to avert the health and fiscal burdens that will ensue from Mexico not cooperating with this order. But averting these problems will require friendly persuasion or subtle (and not-so-subtle) threats to the Mexican government. Whatever the case may be, the Biden administration will have to act swiftly and ensure accountability on the part of a country that has aimed to be a better partner in controlling migration.
Title 42 is a little known but highly effective public health order that secures our borders and mitigates the spread of COVID-19. Mexico has elected to not fully comply with it and will only accept single adults rather than family units. This change in policy will fuel a border and humanitarian crisis, increase our illegal immigrant population, and can exacerbate public health risks amidst the global pandemic. The Biden administration — much like its predecessor — must exert whatever pressure is necessary on Mexico to reverse its decision and fulfill its promise of becoming a better southern neighbor to the United States.
Matthew Tragesser is press secretary at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).