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Administration officials outline border plans, asylum rule ahead of Title 42 lifting

The pandemic-era protocol Title 42, which restricts asylum at the border, is coming to an end this week after more than three years. In a call with reporters Tuesday night, a group of senior administration officials said the U.S. had a "multi-agency, multi-country plan rooted in enforcement, deterrence, and diplomacy" to address an expected rise in the number of migrants and asylum seekers at the border.

Title 42 was implemented in the spring of 2020 on public health grounds and allows border officers to quickly turn most migrants back across the border to Mexico, without giving them the chance to ask for asylum. Experts say that's created a bottleneck at the border, with many asylum seekers in cities like Nogales being forced to wait for months to ask for protection. 

"This is a really unprecedented moment in the Americas," one official on the call said. "Twenty million people are displaced across the region, and the COVID-19 pandemic and political insecurity and climate change have exacerbated what was normally pushing people to migrate, which included already significant levels of violence and corruption and lack of economic opportunity."

The officials said additional resources and facilities are being surged to the border in anticipation of Title 42's lifting, including more than 24,000 law enforcement personnel, 1,100 new Border Patrol processing coordinators. 

"I mentioned that we have a thousand trained USCIS officers who are ready to conduct credible fear  interviews at the border, and of course, we have leveraged a robust medical services contract to deploy 1,400 medical and support staff to the border," one official said. "This is in addition to having increased our capacity to hold non-citizens in Border Patrol facilities by more than 7,000 beds over the last two years."

Meanwhile, an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico will allow Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans apprehended at the border to keep being sent to Mexico, even after Title 42 ends. The officials also said Mexico has agreed to ramp up enforcement efforts along its borders. 

At the core of the plan is a new policy that significantly restricts the right to seek asylum at the border. The officials said that’s being implemented alongside new protection pathways, like the humanitarian parole programs for Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans announced earlier this year, and new processing centers opening in Central America.

Official said the U.S. and regional partners were planning to eventually open more than 100 of these centers. They'll be staffed by international aid groups who will process requests and determine eligibility for refugee status and other protection avenues in the U.S. It's not yet clear how the process will work at those centers of how long it will take.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.