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John Roberts just delayed the end of Title 42: How the demise of the pandemic-era policy could stress the US immigration system

It’s not just a shortage of Border Patrol agents.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts granted the immigration system a brief reprieve as it looks toward its biggest challenge at the southern border since the pandemic began.

“12,000 to 14,000 migrant encounters would be a level we have never before seen at the border and would be about double the number we are currently seeing encountered each day,” said Danilo Zak, assistant vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Immigration Forum. “That number would absolutely pose significant processing and logistical challenges for the government and for local communities.”

In a statement last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that following the lifting of Title 42, “a significant increase in migrant encounters will strain our [immigration] even further.”

Federal response

That processing takes place after Border Patrol encounters a migrant who lacks authorization. Border Patrol brings migrants to a facility to be searched for drugs and contraband. Zak noted that during processing, migrants will also “undergo biographic and biometric screening, real-time record checks, and then [will be] placed into one of several possible processing routes depending on who they are and if they make a claim for humanitarian protection.”

“All these federal organizations/agencies play a role in responding to migration at the border — whether by assisting in migrant and asylum processing, standing up infrastructure or securing the border,” he said. “All these agencies — and SBCC — are likely to be strained by increasing migrant arrivals.”

The Department of Homeland Security also released its own plan to prepare for an increase in immigration at the southern border. The plan includes goals for increasing resources at the border, like CBP agents and officers, transportation, medical support and facilities. DHS is hoping to increase CBP processing efficiency, implement consequences for unlawful entry, expand nongovernmental organization capacity, target transnational criminal organizations and coordinate with other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.

“Border Patrol is often the first point of contact for arriving migrants and is responsible for initially housing and screening arrivals,” Zak said. “They lack capacity to respond to massive numbers and have struggled even with current arrival rates.”

Straining the system

When it comes to social services, it will likely be local groups that experience the greatest stress.

Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, said civil society groups in both the United States and in Mexico have “borne the brunt” of providing much of the social services, legal, medical and travel support to migrants.

Similarly, Zak said there are significant local efforts to support migrants, from local government and faith-based shelter networks. In El Paso, Texas, for example, he said, Annunciation House provides shelter for migrants, usually in faith-based spaces, after they are released from Border Control custody.

The asylum and immigration court system will be impacted too. The system lacks sufficient resources, specifically enough immigration judges and asylum officers. Asylum cases can also take years to process, creating a backlog in an already-slow system.

Humanitarian infrastructure, lacking adequate resources on both sides of the border, will be strained. Rios believes there must be a new priority from the Biden administration, moving away from measures that would prevent and block access to asylum and instead focusing on the humanitarian needs that migrants have.

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