EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Department of Homeland Security on May 23 will no longer expel migrants on public health grounds.

In a statement Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the policy implemented in March 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19 is coming to an end on that date.

“Once the Title 42 Order is no longer in place, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border pursuant to Title 8, which is the standard procedure we use to place individuals in removal proceedings,” Mayorkas said. “Nonetheless, we know that smugglers will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants. Let me be clear: those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed.”

Mayorkas said the administration has “put in place a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border.” That includes increasing capacity to process new arrivals, evaluate asylum requests and remove those who do not qualify for protection.

“We will increase personnel and resources as needed and have already redeployed more than 600 law enforcement officers to the border. We are referring smugglers and certain border crossers for criminal prosecution,” he said.

Title 42 remains in place over the next eight weeks or so, and during that time DHS will apply COVID-19 protocols and ramp up vaccination programs.

Mayorkas said the administration will continue addressing the root causes of migration flows to the United States, which he said have been increasing since at least over a decade ago.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to pursuing every avenue within our authority to secure our borders, enforce our laws and stay true to our values,” Mayorkas said. “Yet a long-term solution can only come from comprehensive legislation that brings lasting reform to a fundamentally broken system.” 

Officials outline preparations for expected new migrant surge

In a Friday call on background with reporters, DHS and State Department officials outlined preparations to cope with the May 23 termination of the Title 42 program.

They said they are anticipating and preparing for an increase in migrants coming across the border but that not everyone may be eligible to remain in the United States.

“Families and single adults who cross the border and are unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the U.S. will be placed in removal proceedings and will be removed. This is how border management was done before, so we will be returning to status quo,” an administration official said.

In the meantime, administration officials emphasized Title 42 will continue to be implemented.

“Individuals arriving at out border  before May 23 will be expelled,” the DHS official said.

Efforts to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination of migrants at processing and detention centers start now, with the goal of expanding vaccinations from 2,000 a day at 11 processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border to at least 6,000 in 27 facilities. Those who refuse the Pfizer or Moderna shots will either be referred for removal or released with more stringent conditions, the officials said.

The administration had been anticipating a rollback of Title 42 for some time and has begun working with non-government organizations and local governments to manage the transition.

“We’ve taken a number of concrete steps to respond quickly and efficiently to any increase in migratory flows and leverage partners at the state and local levels and other key stakeholders,” the State Department official said.

Planning is ongoing to contract “soft-sided” facilities such as tents to process an overflow of migrants and additional DHS personnel is being sent to the border. Also, federal agencies will solicit volunteers to assist with the effort as needed.

The State Department official said an interagency task force would also be in place to ensure smugglers and migrants who may represent a danger be routed for prosecution by the Department of Justice. “We will continue to work actively with them, and also with the government of Mexico, to interdict smuggling organizations with an all-of-government approach to human smuggling,” she said.

The officials also anticipate a continued and even expanded use of the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” that a federal court has directed the Biden administration to keep in place.

“MPP is one of the Title 8 processing pathways,” one official said. “We will continue to increase enrollments in MPP in the next few months.”