The Department of Homeland Security is pausing an effort to shake up the processing of migrants seeking to claim asylum at the southern border due to the upcoming ending of Title 42 expulsions next month, officials confirmed on Wednesday.
A DHS spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital that the agency is pausing its program, introduced last year, that allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers to decide on asylum claims at the border. The policy change means that cases can be decided quickly within months, rather than in a years-long process by immigration judges
The pause is related to preparations being made for the end of the Title 42 public health order — which is due to expire on May 11 along with the COVID-19 public health emergency.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the Senate. ((Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images))
“In light of ongoing border-related planning and to ensure operational readiness ahead of the lifting of the Title 42 public health order, ICE and CBP will temporarily pause new referrals of potential Asylum Merits Interview (AMI) credible fear cases and USCIS will temporarily pause scheduling any new AMIs. Referrals are anticipated to continue in the near future,” the spokesperson said. “In the interim, any noncitizens who have already been scheduled for AMIs with USCIS will continue through that process.”
The L.A. Times, which first reported the development, reported that officials have worried for months that USCIS would be overwhelmed by a potential surge after Title 42 ends next month. The asylum policy had not yet been fully rolled out, and access was still limited.
However, it marks the latest move by the administration to tackle a likely spike in migrants once the order ends. Title 42 was implemented in March 2020 during the Trump administration and at the beginning of the pandemic. The order, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), allows border authorities to rapidly expel migrants at the southern border for public health reasons.
When the order was due to end last year, the administration was predicting up to 14,000 migrant encounters a day.
But as the end date approaches, the administration has been taking a more muscular approach to the border, with moves that have upset immigration activists on the left.
Last month the administration rolled out a new asylum proposed rule, which would immediately bar illegal immigrants who had crossed into the U.S. without claiming asylum at a prior country through which they passed. The rule is going through with the intention of being in place before the order lifts.
While DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has stressed that the “presumption of ineligibility” will be rebuttable and there are exemptions made for some people, it has enraged some Democrats and immigration activists who claim it is similar to the Trump-era transit ban.
Separately, Fox News Digital reported on Saturday that the administration is preparing to hold “credible fear” screenings – the first step in claiming asylum – for migrants in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities.
DHS confirmed the agency is working with legal service providers “to provide access to legal services for individuals who receive credible fear interviews in CBP custody.” DHS said the process is designed to ensure that migrants have access to legal service providers, and said the efforts would inform best practices if credible fear interviews are expanded.
Meanwhile, multiple CBP sectors have been sending out messages to migrants warning that the border is “not open” despite what they may have heard from smugglers.