Colombia warns against irregular migration as Title 42 ends

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The Colombian Government is preparing for the end of Title 42 on May 11, 2023, and how this decision by the Biden administration will impact tens of thousands of citizens attempting to enter the United States illegally through the southern border.

In a statement issued by the country’s Cancillería, the Foreign Ministry warns that once Title 8 is restored US Customs and Border Protection, CBP will expel any person who tries to enter the U.S as an irregular. “Colombia reiterates its commitment to address migration from a multidimensional approach in the continent, in a safe, orderly, regular manner and based on respect for human rights,” reads the official statement. “The lifting of Title 42 does not imply the opening of borders, the exemption of visas, the easing of regularization processes, or new family reunification measures.”

The Foreign Ministry highlights that Colombia works in a “committed way to protect its citizens abroad” through consulates and in coordination with the authorities in each region. “Any attempt to migrate irregularly to the United States, in addition to endangering the lives, dignity, and integrity of people, exposes them to being prosecuted and returned to their countries of origin. The expulsion is accompanied by a ban on entering the country for five years and/or criminal proceedings if you are a repeat offender,” states Cancillería.

According to CBP, some 130,000 Colombians have entered illegally this year into the United States, up from 125,000 “encounters” at U.S borders during 2022. The high number of Colombians who travel to Mexico (country that does not require an entry visa for nationals) to join Venezuelans, Haitians, and migrants from across the Caribbean who cross the Darien Gap to reach the U.S border, will result in large numbers of deportations when Title 42 ends.

Last month, Colombia’s migration entity – Migración Colombia – announced it expected to receive during the first week of May an estimated 1,200 citizens on “repatriation flights” from the U.S. The flights on May 1 and May 2, however, were suspended after Migración cited “cruel and degrading treatment” at asylum centers along the southern border.

The decision to suspend a flight on May 5 with 200 returning Colombians is now being formally investigated by the country’s Procuraduría General (Controller General) on grounds that Migración Colombia may have violated the fundamental rights of citizens. The deportation flights are part of a bilateral agreement known as the Family Reunification Parole Process in which women, children, and adolescents are returned quickly to their countries of origin.

Title 42 was established in 2020 by U.S President Donald Trump to close the border to asylum seekers as a public health measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health concerns of turning-away asylum seekers without record of their illegal status was welcomed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The law, however, was seized upon by vulnerable populations to besiege the Mexico-U.S border without legal consequences.

That same year, candidate Joe Biden campaigned to restore a humane asylum system at U.S borders, and while Title 42 has remained in effect during most of the Biden administration – even expanded to include migrants in additional countries – the end of the Trump-era law does not signal an “open border” policy.

Preparing for a surge in asylum seekers and visa processing applications from Latin Americans, to deal with the end of Title 42, President Biden has ordered 1,500 active-duty troops to patrol the U.S-Mexico border. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) predicts border agents could see as many as 10,000 crossings a day, during May, and Texas border officials have already issued emergency declarations. “The border is not open, it has not been open, and it will not be open after May 11,” stated Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a recent press conference.

Anticipating the return to Title 8, the  Department of State and DHS announced “steep consequences for unlawful entry, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution,” and citizens from a host of nations, including Colombia, who “cross into the United States at the southwest border without authorization – or having used a lawful pathway – and without having scheduled a time to arrive at a port of entry, would be presumed ineligible for asylum.”

Among the commitments the U.S. will implement in coordination with Mexico, Canada, Spain, Colombia, and Guatemala, is to welcome thousands of additional refugees per month from the Western Hemisphere. “In addition, the United States will continue to accept up to 30,000 individuals per month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti as part of the expanded parole processes,” reads a press release from the Department of State.

The United States will also have Regional Processing Centers (RPCs) in key locations across Central and South America to “reduce irregular migration and facilitate safe, orderly, humane, and lawful pathways from the Americas.” The first centers will open in Colombia and Guatemala and are expected to pre-screen and process 5,000 persons per month. “These centers will take a usually 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,” highlighted U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken from Washington. The diplomat went on to thank Guatemala and Colombia for being “excellent partners” in combating human trafficking and illegal migration.