U.S. to open immigrant processing centers in Latin America

U.S. to open immigrant processing centers in Latin America

The Biden administration said Thursday it will set up new immigration processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala as part of a series of measures in anticipation for an expected border surge next month when the White House lifts pandemic-era restrictions.

The centers will invite more migrants to apply to come to the United States legally by boosting refugee admissions, increasing family reunification visas and expanding other lawful channels, officials said.

Migrants who do not apply to come through the expanded legal options will face stiffer consequences if they cross the U.S. southern border, including fast-tracking deportations, officials said.

One senior administration official who briefed reporters described the measures as a part of a new regional management approach “at a level of ambition and scale that has never been done before.” Canada and Spain will accept the resettlement of applicants through the centers, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the administration.

“Individuals from the region will be able to make an appointment on their phone to visit the nearest (processing center) before traveling, receive an interview with immigration specialists, and if eligible, be processed rapidly for lawful pathways to the United States, Canada, and Spain,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The White House has set May 11 as the date it plans to lift the Title 42 emergency border measures that have been in place since March 2020, allowing authorities to rapidly expel migrants to their home countries or to Mexico. Border officials say they expect the number of illegal crossings along the southern border— which are already near record level— to go even higher when Title 42 ends.

Biden officials said they have been preparing more than a year for the anticipated surge. Authorities have used the Title 42 policy to carry out more than 2.5 million expulsions over the past three years, but the White House is lifting the pandemic emergency health declaration that formed the underlying legal basis for the emergency border controls.

That will create a major stress test for the Biden administration on one of the issues — immigration and the southern border — that has drawn some of the president’s lowest approval ratings. Republican state officials have sued in federal court to prevent the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, but barring a last-minute ruling, the government will return to standard immigration proceedings on May 11.

The immigration processing centers will be run by international organizations, and are not operating yet, officials said, pledging to provide more details on their plans in the coming weeks.

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