Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the United States’ lifting of the Title 42 immigration policy is already causing smugglers to encourage migrants to cross into the U.S. illegally.
Title 42 is a COVID-era policy initially enacted by former President Donald Trump’s administration in March 2020 that was instituted to decrease the spread of the virus into the U.S. Per the policy, migrants have been sent back to their home nations without a formal asylum process. It is set to expire May 11 in sync with the expiration of the COVID-19 health emergency.
Obrador has newly warned that smugglers, or “coyotes”, are tricking undocumented migrants by telling them they will be able to cross the border when the policy expires. He has encouraged the use of legal avenues for migrants’ proper visa application.
“This will help a lot, so that migration flows do not increase based on misinformation,” Obrador said, according to Barron’s.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said smugglers were charging those same migrants thousands of dollars while encouraging them to cross the southern border.
“It’s false. They’re deceiving them,” Ebrard said, adding that a “very significant flow” of migrants towards the frontier had been detected.
Obrador also said on May 5 during a news conference that he doesn’t expect the policy’s lifting to cause surges of migrant flows into the U.S. “because another option, an alternative, is opening up,” Reuters reported.
President Joe Biden, who in January of this year admitted he was not in favor of the policy since its inception, outlined a new policy allowing 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua who applied legally through a parole program.
Last week, the White House announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the southern border in advance of Title 42’s expiration.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the troops “will not be performing law enforcement functions or interacting with immigrants, or migrants,” and instead will help carry out administrative tasks in an effort to “free up Border Patrol agents to perform their critical law enforcement duties.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection data last updated in March shows 257,910 “national encounters” at the southern border. Total encounters for this year have eclipsed 1.54 million individuals.
“[Obrador’s statements] seem to be a little inconsistent to both predict that there won’t be much of a rise, and that commercial types who do the smuggling won’t be taking advantage of the lifting,” David Abraham, an immigration and citizenship professor at the University of Miami, told Newsweek in a phone conversation. “The U.S. administration obviously does fear a massive in-flow or else we wouldn’t be sending 1,500 troops to the border.
“And those coming from the various countries are going to see how it works as well; communication is fairly quick. Even if the trip is a slow one, people will embark on it and see what kind of measures are taken against them when they get to the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Leonardo Freitas, founder of the Hayman-Woodward immigration law firm, told Newsweek via email that any surge or decrease in migration through the southern border is less about U.S. immigration policy change and more about economic opportunities for both human traffickers and those seeking “the American dream.”
One such recent case, he noted, involved a petrochemical engineer from South America who was reportedly killed by human traffickers. She could have qualified for a green card based on the EB-2 national interest waiver program, though was denied a tourist visa, he added.
“Many perish or suffer violence of all kinds, including sexual assault and organ harvesting, during this perilous journey of chasing this dream,” Freitas said. “Tragically, many are unaware that the dream may never materialize for them.
“The worst part is that a significant number of these migrants could potentially qualify for some sort of legal immigration benefit if they applied for it, paying less than what they pay to a ‘coyote.’”
Abraham said the U.S. is currently “in a bit of unknown territory” as it relates to illegal immigration, given that Title 42 has been in place now for over three years.
“Lifting it seems like an obvious invitation to give it a try,” Abraham said. “The Mexican government has every right to work with us or let it flow as it will. How it’s going to turn out I think we really don’t know.”
Newsweek reached out via email to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and Obrador’s office for comment.