State of the Facts
Title 42 of the US Code, which denied entry of migrants at the border to stop the spread of COVID-19, ended on May 12, 2023. The original order was issued in March 2020, making it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum in the US. What does the data say about Title 42's effect on immigration?
Federal law enforcement counted 3.8 million encounters with migrants at the Canadian and Mexican borders between March 2020 and April 2022. The government defines a border encounter as when a migrant is apprehended, expelled or otherwise determined inadmissible to the US, anywhere along the border. Fifty-one percent of the migrants in those encounters were denied entry to the US citing the Title 42 order.
In a border encounter prior to Title 42, migrants were allowed to state whether they feared persecution or wanted to seek asylum from their home country. Those found to show a credible fear would then face a hearing that could result in the migrant legally receiving asylum in the US. Anyone not granted asylum status would be removed.
Under Title 42, migrants are not asked any questions and are expelled to Mexico or their country of citizenship after a border encounter. This makes it difficult for migrants to seek asylum in the US, since a migrant is not asked about why they're trying to enter the country.
The original order doesn't single out migrants from a specific country, but notes that many of the people the order applies to don’t have valid travel documents and are held in close quarters at the border with others trying to get into the US.
Migrants from four countries — Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — accounted for 64% of all border encounters during the pandemic but 93% of all Title 42 cases. Due to the nature of Title 42, it is unclear how many of those migrants would have sought asylum if asked.
Unaccompanied children became exempt from the Title 42 order after a district court ruling in November 2020. The CDC made an official exemption for them in February 2021. The order still applied to single adults and families.
The number of asylum cases filed dropped 56% from 196,000 in fiscal year 2020 to about 87,000 in fiscal year 2021.
While Title 42 contributed to a drop in asylum seekers, there is still a backlog of more than half a million asylum cases waiting for review in US immigration courts.
As of March 2022, there were 647,000 pending asylum cases in the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the arm of the Justice Department that processes asylum claims. The decrease in new asylum cases helped reduce the existing backlog by 10,000 cases from fiscal year 2020.
As the asylum case backlog decreased, the total number of immigration cases increased. The number of pending cases for the office increased 30% from the end of fiscal year 2020 to March 2022, from 1.3 million to 1.6 million.
Many factors may play into whether the current trends in asylum cases continue, including the status of the Title 42 order and situations in migrants’ original countries.
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