EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Transnational criminal organizations are the only ones who’ve benefited from Trump-era immigration policies, according to a national immigration expert.
Other parties involved, from the migrants themselves to merchants, tourism providers and trade organizations on both sides of the border, find themselves in a more difficult situation than before, he says.
“Whether it’s been Title 42 or (Migrant Protection Protocols) or anything we have seen in the last four years, it has pinned migrants against the border and left them often to be victims of the cartels,” said Ali Noorani, president and chief executive officer of the National Immigration Forum. “We’ve all seen the stories of kidnapping, extortion and violence. It’s clear people have been put in increasingly desperate situations.”
Noorani spent the past two days in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, on a fact-finding tour prior to an expected Biden administration rollback of the Title 42 public health rule that has allowed U.S. immigration officials to swiftly expel unauthorized migrants.
The controversial policy to contain cross-border spread of COVID-19 initiated by Trump and continued by Biden hasn’t discouraged unauthorized migration, but rather forced the migrants to retry entry multiple times or turn to smugglers for help, migrant advocates say.
Biden reportedly plans to exempt family units from Title 42 expulsions beginning in the next few days or weeks, but questions remain as to how many families will try to come across and whether U.S. government agencies can process them and nonprofit social services groups can assist them in a timely and efficient manner.
“The Biden administration, the Mexican government and international organizations need to come up with a plan,” Noorani said. “The rollback of MPP provides an important template of how that can be done so families can engage with (United Nations agencies), get their COVID test and go through a safe and orderly process that protects them from the cartels and allows them to enter the U.S. and make their case for asylum.”
Under Biden’s rollback of the Migrant Protection Protocol program, the UN Refugee Agency set up a web portal to register and screen asylum seekers rather than have them overwhelm officers at U.S. ports of entry. The agency shared information with CBP, which in turn authorized the first group of eligible petitioners to approach the border. But it was another UN agency that administered the COVID-19 tests at a Juarez shelter and then bused the migrants to a designated port of entry where they turned in their paperwork and were allowed into the country.
Noorani said he sensed both anticipation about the possibility of helping eligible families come in as well as concern about handling volume on the part of organizations on both sides of the border.
“People are increasingly worried about what’s going to happen in the next four to six weeks. They’re worried about capacity issues, about cartels taking advantage of migrants,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s a sense of, ‘OK, we can do it. We’ve handled difficult situations in the last four years and we can handle this.’ There’s trepidation and, also, resilience.”
Noorani says the Biden administration needs to refine its immigration strategy to get more Americans behind it. “There needs to be a plan in place and that plan needs to be communicated to migrants, organizations on both sides of the border and the American public. If they feel there isn’t a plan or it is not being communicated, the public will be left to think that things aren’t under control,” he said.
The immigration expert said Biden also isn’t efficiently communicating what he’s doing to improve border security.
“They are securing the border, so they should talk about it. The fact that they’re not is leaving them open to attacks from the opposition,” Noorani said.
That opposition, which includes many Republicans, should also come to the negotiating table to craft a long-term solution to a better U.S. immigration system and better border security achieved through more modern technology, he added.
“If Republicans are serious about solutions they would join (U.S. Sens.) John Cornyn and Kyrsten Sinema on the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. It’s very moderate, very thoughtful, it doesn’t cross red lines like building walls or changing asylum laws,” he said. “Yes, there will be a base of Republicans who just want enforcement, but there’s a large suburban GOP base that sees this is a complicated problem that requires complicated solutions.”