Nonprofits, lawmakers worry end of pandemic border controls will strain resources
CQ-Roll Call May 8, 2023
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Marisa Limón Garza, executive director at an immigrant legal services nonprofit in El Paso, Texas, said resources at her organizations are already strained even before an expected increase in migration when pandemic-era border controls end this week.
After the border directive known as Title 42 ends, organizations like hers will face the daunting task of educating migrants about procedures and pathways that have not been in place for years, and some that are brand new.
“We have a limited number of attorneys and accredited representatives,” Limón Garza, of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said. “We are limited in what we can provide, and so that’s just really difficult in the face of so much change.”
Border nonprofits and local communities have started to prepare for the fallout from the May 11 end of the Title 42 policy, which has allowed border agents to turn back migrants without considering their claims for protection since March 2020.
But many of these organizations face significant resource constraints, from shelter space to availability of pro bono lawyers to assist migrants with their immigration cases. The strain has sparked debate on Capitol Hill about how best to manage a potential spike in migration at the border in the coming months — and how federal funds might help.
Years of asylum restrictions have created pent-up demand from migrants hoping to qualify for protection in the U.S. And the Department of Homeland Security has projected border agents could encounter more than 10,000 migrants each day when the Title 42 policy lifts with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency order.
The El Paso mayor declared a state of emergency earlier this month to ready more shelter space for migrants who cross the border. The administration announced days later it had approved a request from DHS to have 1,500 active-duty personnel sent to the U.S.-Mexico border for additional support.
Meanwhile, nonprofits, which have long opposed the Title 42 policy, are stepping up.
Arizona nonprofit workers held a two-hour town hall on Thursday with more than 200 migrants across the border in Nogales, Mexico, to explain what will happen after Thursday.
After the event, Chelsea Sachau, an attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, said she spent another four hours with colleagues answering individual questions from the migrants.
Sachau said she and her colleagues must ensure they’re “cutting across people who are in that state of elevated anxiety and stress, and really on the edge of survival, to make sure that a complicated system that the U.S. government has set up is easily understood and distilled.”
“That takes time. That takes meeting people where they’re at,” Sachau said.
The administration has announced a slew of migration initiatives that will replace the border expulsion policy. That includes fast-tracked deportation procedures and more appointments on a smartphone app for asylum-seekers to make claims for protection. Soon, the administration will finalize a policy that will make it harder for those who cross the border without authorization to qualify for asylum.
Erika Pinheiro, executive director at Al Otro Lado, a legal services organization based in San Diego and Tijuana, said it is a “huge ask” for any one group to disseminate this much new information to migrants — thousands of whom are already gathered on the other side of the border.
Her organization plans to bring more U.S.-based staffers to Mexico for a few weeks to help assist migrants once the restrictions end.
“It’s difficult,” Pinheiro said. “It makes it more challenging to give information to migrants when we don’t know exactly how things are going to play out.”
Antonio Hernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities of San Antonio, which provides shelter and other services to migrants, said last week that he is “more than worried” for migrants if there are not enough resources to welcome them when they arrive.
His organization relies on funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide humanitarian assistance, but their current contract expired at the end of April. Hernandez said he expected to receive more funding, but he had yet to receive the new contract.
“I’m sad about what’s going to happen with all of these people. Who is going to take care of them? How are they going to be provided for?” Hernandez said.
On Friday, Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro and Greg Casar of Texas announced their offices had expedited nearly $32 million of that grant funding to Catholic Charities of San Antonio.
The government is also working to distribute available funds ahead of the Title 42 end. DHS on Friday announced $332.5 million through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to go to nearly three dozen local government and service organizations receiving migrants released pending immigration court decisions. Border communities will be prioritized in the first round of funding, according to the department.
Lawmakers from border areas have also raised concerns about their communities’ capacity to handle more migrants and the need for more quick action on federal funding.
Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, and Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday to urge him to ensure that $800 million in funding for shelters included in this year’s government funding bill “is disbursed in a timely manner to our Southwest border communities.”
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona on Thursday sent letters to President Joe Biden and administration officials to raise similar concerns about Arizona’s capacity to manage a rise in migration levels.
Gallego also wrote congressional appropriators asking them to consider advancing immigration-related supplemental funding for this purpose.
“As we transition away from Title 42, counties, municipalities, and community non-profits across border states like Arizona may need additional resources to process, house, feed, and transport larger numbers of migrants,” Gallego wrote. “I believe that it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide additional support for our border communities.”
Concerns about limited resources have already prompted conversations on Capitol Hill about passing possible supplemental funding for the Department of Homeland Security to manage increased migration levels.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security panel, said in an interview Wednesday that a supplemental funding bill for the border was on the table but that lawmakers had not yet received a request for one from the administration.
But Murphy also said he would prefer to give DHS enough funds to manage migration through the regular funding process, rather than adding more money in supplemental spending bills.
“I want to get out of this cycle in which we are appropriating broadly allowable emergency funds every year,” he said. “We’ve got to start giving accurate appropriations to the department to handle those new [migration] levels.”
Asked about possible supplemental funding, Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama, the top Republican on the homeland spending panel, did not rule it out and said Biden’s requested budget for fiscal 2024, which proposed a 1 percent cut in discretionary funds to DHS, “has shown that he did not give the consideration he needed to.”
But a supplemental funding bill for border management could still face opposition from Republicans hesitant to give more funding to DHS when they do not support the department’s policies.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Thursday at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that he would not support any supplemental funding bills for DHS “without some reform.”
“We just can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” he said.
©2023 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.