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US Immigration Officials announced plans to set up Regional Processing Centers

The Biden Administration has set the stage for an extensive review of migration management at the U.S.-Mexico border and within the broader Western Hemisphere. The Title 42 border expulsions policy was used over 2.7 million times to quickly expel migrants with limited opportunities for asylum claims. It was lifted on May 1, 2023, according to USCIS, it was accompanied by measures to create a more orderly process at the border that restores the credibility of the immigration system and directs migrants toward legal immigration pathways.

Central to this strategy is the idea of establishing Regional Processing Centers throughout Latin America that will help identify people with protection needs and provide information and processing assistance to access legal pathways to the United States and other countries. During a recent visit to the border city of Brownsville, Texas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said people would apply for permission to join their families in the United States at regional processing centers. The announcement is a welcome development that acknowledges the expansion of access to humanitarian protections as an essential solution to a hemisphere-wide refugee crisis that has displaced over 20 million people. The government plans to open 100 such hubs across the Western Hemisphere, with the first ones starting in Guatemala and Colombia, however, it is also reported that United States will also be discussing increased refugee processing in Ecuador and Costa Rica which could help increase the currently small number of refugee admissions from Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The whole model is to reach the people where they are — to cut the smugglers out and to have them avoid the perilous journey that too many do not make. But we are beginning in Guatemala and Colombia. We are beginning at the level that I described, and we will scale up,” Secretary Mayorkas stated.

These centers are designed to take pressure off a border witnessing increasingly hemispheric flows, at a time when the U.S. government will be restricting some access to asylum and becoming much more consistent in returning some would-be migrants to countries of origin. They are also designed to cut smugglers out of the equation by giving people access to protection and legal pathways earlier in their migration journey, and eventually before they cross international lines at all. Officials hope this will deter thousands of immigrants from journeying to the United States-Mexico border to help slow down the number of migrants coming to the U.S.

"Working with our neighbors in the region, we can and will reduce the number of migrants who reach our southern border," Mayorkas told reporters on Thursday, May 11, 2023. "The regional processing centers announced today will be a critical addition to the programs and processes DHS has in place for qualifying individuals to obtain authorization to enter the United States before arriving at our borders." Mayorkas vowed to remove from the country any family who a judge has decided does not have a legitimate asylum claim. However, internally, Mayorkas has told ICE to prioritize the arrests and deportations of convicted criminals, making families with a court order a low priority.

They are also increasing the number of applications available on the CBP One app for migrants in Central and Northern Mexico. Migrants will be able to make an appointment on their phones ahead of time before visiting the closest regional processing center. United States officials said that everyone who comes through one of these centers will be vetted, and only those with approved family-based petitions will be allowed to travel to the United States. “We will — on a case-by-case basis use enhanced alternatives to detention as warranted,” Mayorkas said. “If they receive a final order of removal, we will enforce the law and they will be removed.”

U.S. international partners, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, will screen at least 5,000 or 6,000 migrants a month at the new processing centers. Secretary Mayorkas instructed to determine if they qualify for entry before the migrants can try to move on to the U.S. southern border. If eligible, migrants will be referred for refugee resettlement or other lawful pathways such as parole programs, family reunification or existing labor pathways. Migrants will also receive local information about host countries and available social services.

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Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846


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