Yuma mayor asks for federal emergency declaration as Title 42 ends

Dozens of migrants lined up at the Yuma port of entry an hour after Title 42 officially expired.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:57 AM MST|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 10:26 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/CNN) — There are just hours left before the expiration of a pandemic-era public health restriction will significantly alter several years of US immigration policy, threatening chaos as an estimated tens of thousands of migrants mass near the US-Mexico border in anticipation. Now Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls said that President Joe Biden needs to issue a federal emergency declaration in response to Title 42′s end and an anticipated surge of migrants.

He said during Thursday’s press conference in Yuma that declaring an emergency would allow the federal government to send funds, resources and aid, such as the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s time the president announced a declaration of national emergency,” Nicholls said. In the letter sent to Biden, he said he “demanded resources —not just money — but resources on the ground that we can protect our border the way it should have been protected from the beginning.”

Nicholls elaborates that protection includes the safety of the migrants from “exploitation and rape and abuse and neglect.”

“Men, women and unaccompanied minors,” he continues. “This is not something that, as Americans, we would stand for in any other situation and yet the inaction of our government facilitates the continuation of that exploitation.”

Nicholls said Yuma’s non-governmental agencies (NGOs) and other small communities non-profits don’t have the internal structure to meet and sustain the number of resources necessary for the surge due to the lack of funds compared to larger cities. The NGOs are about to exceed their limits, he said.

The mayor of Yuma, as well as city and county officials, urge the federal government to declare as state of emergency at the border.

He later said that United States Customs and Border Protection agents will screen and release migrants in commercial areas in the greater Yuma area, with at least 96 in Yuma directly, and not in residential areas.

Issued during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Title 42 allowed authorities to swiftly turn away migrants at the US borders, ostensibly to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But that will change at 11:59 p.m. ET (8:59 p.m. Arizona time) Thursday when the public health emergency and Title 42 are set to lapse.

“If the federal government doesn’t want to enforce their law, our message to the people of Arizona is that the Arizona sheriffs will enforce the law, and if you break a state law we will hold you accountable,” said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.

Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes echoed a similar sentiment. “This experiment, whatever it was, has failed us,” said Rhodes of Title 42.

Closer to the Valley, the pastor at El Buen Pastor in Mesa said that while migrants are dropped off at his church every week, they anticipate that number to double in the coming weeks. As for the anticipated surge into metro Phoenix, that exact magnitude remains unclear.

Phoenix Sky Harbor told Arizona’s Family earlier this week that about 200 migrants are bused to the airport every day. Many of them are coming to Yuma, with staff meeting with migrants to help with the travel process and guide them to the appropriate immigration services.

With the end of Title 42, migrants are surging to the U.S. border, challenging a humanitarian...
With the end of Title 42, migrants are surging to the U.S. border, challenging a humanitarian crisis that is already unfolding.

Images of the border showed a sleuth of people already lining up, with migrants gathered with little belongings and following the instructions of Customs and Border Patrol agents to ensure adequate processing.

Title 8 will be back in effect

Title 42 allowed border authorities to swiftly turn away migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border, often depriving deprived migrants of the chance to claim asylum and dramatically cutting down on border processing time. But Title 42 also carried almost no legal consequences for migrants crossing, meaning if they were pushed back, they could try to cross again multiple times.

Once Title 42 lifts, the US government will return to a decades-old section of US code known as Title 8, which Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has warned would carry “more severe” consequences for migrants found to be entering the country without a legal basis.

The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly stressed in recent months that migrants apprehended under Title 8 authority may face a swift deportation process, known as “expedited removal” -- and a ban on reentry for at least five years. Those who make subsequent attempts to enter the US could face criminal prosecution, DHS has said.

But the processing time for Title 8 can be lengthy, posing a steep challenge for authorities facing a high number of border arrests. By comparison, the processing time under Title 42 hovered around 30 minutes because migrants could be quickly expelled, whereas, under Title 8, the process can take over an hour.

Title 8 allows for migrants to seek asylum, which can be a lengthy and drawn out process that begins with a credible fear screening by asylum officers before migrants’ cases progress through the immigration court system.

Title 8 has continued to be used alongside Title 42 since the latter’s introduction during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 1.15 million people apprehended at the southern border under Title 8 in fiscal year 2022, according to US Customs and Border Protection. More than 1.08 million people were expelled under Title 42 at the southern land border during that same period.

There’s also a new border policy

The administration is also rolling out new, strict policy measures following the lifting of Title 42 that will go into effect this week.

That includes putting into place a new asylum rule that will largely bar migrants who passed through another country from seeking asylum in the US. The rule, proposed earlier this year, will presume migrants are ineligible for asylum in the US if they didn’t first seek refuge in a country they transited through, like Mexico, on the way to the border. Migrants who secure an appointment through the CBP One app will be exempt, according to officials.

If migrants are found ineligible for asylum, they could be removed through the speedy deportation process, known as “expedited removal,” which would bar them from the US for five years.

The administration also plans to return Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans to Mexico if they cross the border unlawfully, marking the first time the US has sent non-Mexican nationals back across the border.

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls said declaring an emergency would allow the federal government to send funds, resources and aid.

Senior administration officials have stressed the actions are necessary to encourage people to use lawful pathways to come to the US. That includes parole programs for eligible nationalities to apply to enter the US and expanding access to an app for migrants to make an appointment to present themselves at a port of entry.

The State Department also plans to open about 100 regional processing centers in the Western hemisphere where migrants can apply to come to the US, though the timeline is unclear.

“We have, however, coupled this with a robust set of consequences for noncitizens who, despite having these options available to them, continue to cross unlawfully at the border,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday.