(Al Jazeera Media Network) The United States has sent approximately 2,400 people – including Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans – back to Mexico since a contentious border policy known as Title 42 expired late last week, a U.S. official has said.
The end of Title 42, which allowed U.S. authorities to rapidly expel people crossing the country’s southern border under the pretext of protecting public health, late on Thursday coincided with a new policy that restricts access to asylum at the frontier.
Blas Nunez-Neto, assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said on Monday that 2,400 people had been returned to Mexico since Title 42 expired. Thousands of others were repatriated to more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Honduras, and Peru.
“And in recent days, we have seen Mexico and Guatemala deploying large numbers of law-enforcement and military personnel to their southern borders,” Nunez-Neto said.
He added that Panama and Colombia were also “undertaking an unprecedented joint effort to attack smuggling networks operating in the area.”
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration had anticipated a massive uptick in border crossings in the wake of Title 42’s expiration, but Nunez-Neto said no spike had been reported so far.
The days before the policy’s expiration saw crossings rise to a record of about 10,000 per day, but he said since Title 42 ended, that number has hovered around 5,000.
“We recognize that there is a historic number of people displaced in our hemisphere, and we believe it is too soon to draw firm conclusions,” Nunez-Neto said.
“Although, of course, the decreased level of encounters at the border we hope reflects both an appreciation of the new consequences of unlawful entry at the border, as well as the enforcement actions being taken by our foreign partners.”
The new asylum rule allows U.S. authorities to disqualify people from seeking protection in the U.S. if they did not first apply in countries they crossed earlier in their journeys, or if they do not first apply and get an appointment via a U.S. immigration app known as CBP One.
While the new plan includes some exceptions and opportunities to appeal, rights groups have said it amounts to an “asylum ban.”
Nunez-Neto said on Monday that people crossing the border irregularly “now face tougher consequences at the border, including a minimum five-year bar on re-entry and the potential to be criminally prosecuted if they try again.”
The policy comes after the Biden administration announced in January that it would send as many as 30,000 migrants and refugees from Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela back to Mexico each month if they attempt to cross the border without permits.
Rights groups decried the measure, noting that asylum seekers face many dangers as well as discrimination in Mexican border cities.
In turn, Washington said it would allow as many as 30,000 people from those four countries to legally enter the U.S. every month, provided they apply in advance and meet certain criteria, including having a sponsor and not crossing the border irregularly.