Mexico has stopped accepting families who are not from the country, according to a Mexican federal source, prompting an increase in migrants held in detention across the Rio Grande Valley and casting uncertainty over the effectiveness of a U.S. public health code known as Title 42 that immediately expels migrant families during the pandemic.
According to the source, Mexican officials were made aware of the changes since Wednesday, but said no official communication had been released by Mexico’s office of Foreign Relations and the National Institute of Immigration, also known as SRE and INM.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to The Monitor’s inquiry sent at 3:42 p.m. Saturday. DHS did, however, respond to reporters from other media outlets by issuing them a statement that did not deny the veracity of the news shared by the Mexican federal source.
That DHS statement sent to other reporters stated, “At this time, there is no change to DHS policy or operations as they relate to the agency’s enforcement of the CDC’s Title 42 public health authority.”
While the Title 42 policy, which was first issued in March 2020, was not changed, the Mexican federal source said Mexico’s response did.
Rumors of the Biden administration ending Title 42 enforcement surfaced since March of this year. The McAllen City Commission stated in a July 16 report that it appears “… there is a possibility that Title 42 expulsions for family units may end first (potentially as early as this weekend), with expulsions for single adults ending by the end of July.”
As of June, the U.S. did not act and continued the enforcement of the policy that led to the expulsion of about 750,000 migrants from the U.S. to Mexico.
Changes made on the Mexican side, including the nationality or age of the migrant they’re willing to accept from the U.S., has directly affected the number of migrants who stay in U.S. custody.
In February, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas refused to take some families with children of a certain age which led to overcrowding in CBP facilities. As a direct result, families started to get released on the U.S. side, although some were sent to other Border Patrol sectors where the Mexican bordering state allowed for their expulsion.
“Under Title 42, DHS continues to expel the majority of single adults, and, to the extent possible, families encountered at the Southwest Border,” DHS further wrote in the statement.
The assertions from DHS and the Mexican federal source, however, are not mutually exclusive.
Mexican families are still subject to Title 42 expulsions. Therefore, DHS can “to the extent possible” expel families encountered at the southwest border, while families from noncontiguous countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras could be exempted from the expulsions, as the Mexican federal sources indicated.
Unaccompanied children were excluded from the expulsions in December 2020. Single adults detained by Border Patrol may still be sent back to Mexico.
Regardless of the DHS statement, the changes are evident as the number of people detained in Border Patrol custody continues to rise across the Valley, straining federal resources while already contending with understaffing, limited resources, and restricted avenues for releasing migrants.
This has occurred during a time, the month of July, when the U.S. has historically seen a drop in migrant crossings.
Over 10,000 people were in their custody across Border Patrol stations and processing sites, with thousands more who are unprocessed and not part of that total, according to sources familiar with the situation.
On Saturday, Border Patrol agents in the Brownsville area received a message titled “OT volunteers needed ASAP.”
“Fort Brown Station is seeking volunteers to assist with the overflow of subjects being experienced at RGV Sector. RGV is currently at over 10,000 subjects with over 8,000 unprocessed,” it added. A phone number was included for agents to call.
Agents from other sectors were also sent to the Valley to assist, including some from the neighboring Laredo sector, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Reliance on Laredo grew Saturday evening after the situation, growing more tense, led Border Patrol officials to call on Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, according to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar.
Laredo sued DHS, and its county signed a declaration of disaster to keep migrants from being sent to their city. A reprieve was achieved, but Cuellar, D-Laredo, said Border Patrol will resume migrant transfers from the Valley on Saturday or Sunday, much to the mayor’s dismay.
Border Patrol agents have few outlets to release migrants.
One of the quickest ways to process and release families is through prosecutorial discretion.
Agents in the Valley used the tool en masse back in March, a move Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings said he had never implemented in his 25-year career.
According to sources familiar with the situation, however, the White House has now capped the number of families who could be released through that expedited process. Comment from DHS was sought in response to this allegation, but none was received.
On Friday, DHS announced they started to send migrants back to their country through an expedited removal process. However, if a migrant claims a credible fear and requests asylum, a federal officer may not place them on those flights.
Chief Hastings revealed the current challenges in detaining, processing and releasing migrants through a declaration filed in a federal court Friday.
Border Patrol uses large tent-like structures in Donna to hold migrants for processing.
“With the large number of migrants being apprehended this facility currently faces significant capacity constraints,” Hastings said.
The other temporary outdoor processing site located under the Anzalduas International Bridge housed thousands of migrants on Saturday. Cuellar shared some photos on social media.
According to sources familiar with the situation, medics are called frequently to the bridge to address the needs that surface repeatedly from migrants held outdoors, sometimes for days, as one migrant detailed on Thursday.
The Monitor reached out to DHS for comment again at 7:39 p.m. Saturday, but did not receive a response as of press time.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published at 3:35 p.m. and was updated with the full version at 10:33 p.m.