The Biden administration is opening “processing centers” in Central and South American countries that will let migrants apply to come to the U.S. legally as part of an effort to drive down illegal migration across the U.S.-Mexico border, three senior administration officials told reporters Thursday.
The first processing centers will be operated by international organizations partnering with the U.S. and opened in Guatemala and Colombia in the coming weeks, the officials said.
“Individuals will speak to specialists to be screened and if eligible … they’ll be referred for refugee resettlement or other lawful pathways, such as parole programs, family reunification or existing labor pathways,” a senior administration official said. The centers may also provide migrants with social services or pathways to resettle in Canada, Spain or countries in their region.
The new centers are part of the administration’s strategy to expand the number of legal pathways to the U.S. while making it harder for migrants to claim asylum at the U.S. border.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the processing centers, as well as other details of the administration’s plan to work with other countries to stem “irregular migration” throughout the Western Hemisphere at a news conference Thursday.
"I want to thank Colombia and Guatemala specifically for their role as excellent partners of the United States in these efforts," Blinken said. "These centers will take [an] important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries."
But the Biden administration still expects a surge of migrants at the southern border after May 11, when the Title 42 Covid ban lifts.
“We have been preparing for this transition for more than a year and a half," Mayorkas said. "Notwithstanding those preparations, we do expect that encounters at our southern border will increase, as smugglers are seeking to take advantage of this change and already are hard at work spreading disinformation that the border will be open after that. High encounters will place a strain on our entire system, including our dedicated and heroic workforce and our communities.”
Migrant crossings expected to spike ahead of end of Title 42April 29, 202302:54
Mayorkas said the U.S. was surging resources at the border but said the existing funds from Congress would support only a small fraction of what is ultimately needed. Federal immigration officials, as well as local shelter operators, are worried the U.S. does not have the funding or capacity to deal with the expected surge of over 10,000 border arrivals a day after May 11.
Mayorkas said: "We call on Congress to provide the resources we need to continue our work. We stand ready to work with Congress to pass desperately needed reform to our immigration and asylum system.”
The administration will also move to more quickly remove migrants who arrive at the southern border if they have not first sought asylum in a country they passed through or signed up for an appointment on a Customs and Border Protection app known as CBP1.
Many migrants have expressed frustration at the shortage of available appointments, including hundreds who recently rushed a port of entry in El Paso, Texas, only to be turned back.
The administration’s plans to quickly remove migrants who do not qualify depends in large part on cooperation from Mexico, which has agreed to continue taking back migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua under an agreement the two countries announced in January. The administration officials did not say how many migrants Mexico would take back per month or what other nationalities might be expelled to Mexico if they do not meet the new criteria to enter the U.S.