SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Biden administration has begun expelling Cubans and Nicaraguans to Mexico under pandemic-related powers to deny migrants a chance to seek asylum, expanding use of the public-health rule even as it publicly says it has been trying to unwind it, sources said Wednesday.
The U.S. struck an agreement with Mexico to expel up to 100 Cubans and 20 Nicaraguans a day from three locations: San Diego; El Paso, Texas; and Rio Grande Valley, Texas, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the effort.
The expulsions began April 27 and will end May 22, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been made public. They are carried out under Title 42 authority, which has been used to expel migrants on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Title 42 is due to expire May 23.
The U.S. and Mexico agreed April 26 to expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans, said two Mexican officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond by press time Wednesday to a request for comment.
Until last week, Mexico only agreed to take Guatemalans, Hondurans and El Salvadorans — in addition to Mexicans — under Title 42 authority. Other nationalities are subject to Title 42 but costs, strained diplomatic ties and other considerations often make it difficult to send migrants back to their home countries.
It’s next to impossible for the U.S. to expel migrants to Cuba or Nicaragua due to poor relations with those governments. Cubans were stopped by U.S. authorities more than 32,000 times on the Mexican border in March, more than five times October’s count, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Nicaraguans were stopped more than 16,000 times in March, more than double September’s level.
Lifting Title 42 has proven controversial as midterm elections near, amid concerns that the U.S. is unprepared for an anticipated increase in migrants seeking asylum. Authorities stopped migrants more than 221,000 times in March, the highest mark in 22 years.
The White House and Homeland Security Department have publicly stood behind the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to end Title 42 because it could no longer be justified on grounds of protecting public health. But the practice of expelling Cubans and Nicaraguans runs counter to the administration’s public statements that it was phasing out use of the pandemic powers.
The U.S. has expelled migrants more than 1.8 million times under Title 42 authority since March 2020, effectively overriding rights to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaty.
Marisa Limón of the Hope Border Institute said the Biden administration is “trying to get every last bit out of Title 42” before it expires.