EXPLAINER: Why did Texas hold up trucks at the border for days?

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to impose additional inspections on trucks entering Texas from Mexico was his latest move in an unprecedented push into border security, which has long been the domain of the federal government.

The two-time governor, like many Republican leaders, has called illegal immigration and drug smuggling out of Mexico a “crisis” and blames President Joe Biden for it. His latest actions follow the Biden administration’s decision to end pandemic-related restrictions on seeking asylum at the border on May 23.

Here are some facts about border conditions and Abbott’s response:

HOW MANY MIGRANTS APPEAR AT THE BORDER?

US Customs and Border Protection stopped migrants 164,973 times in February, a daily average of nearly 5,900. March figures will be released soon, but CBP said it stopped migrants an average of 7,101 times a day in the week ended March 28.

That’s an unusually large number; The last week of March was about to set a new monthly high in Biden’s presidency and one of the busiest on record. The Border Patrol stopped migrants nearly 1.7 million times in the 12 months ended Sept. 30 — one of the highest since the agency was founded in 1924 — but that number masks a key difference.

Since March 2020, US authorities have deported migrants more than 1.7 million times under Title 42, named after a 1944 public health law, and used the threat of COVID-19 to deny migrants the opportunity to Seek asylum as required by US law and international treaties. Expulsions have no legal consequences and encourage repeat attempts. In the 2021 financial year, more than one in four migrants was stopped “repeatedly” at the border, and repeat offenders were stopped more than three times on average in the previous year. Consequently, the number of migrants who have crossed the border is much lower than the number of times the authorities have stopped migrants.

WHAT DID BIDEN DO?

The Democratic president reversed many measures introduced by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who belittled asylum as a “fraud” and said the country was “full.” The Biden administration repealed a rule banning domestic and gang violence as grounds for asylum altogether, and ended bilateral deals to send some migrants to seek protection in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador instead of the United States.

Biden suspended the “stay in Mexico” policy on his first day in office after the Trump administration forced about 70,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings at a US immigration court. He was forced to reintroduce the policy by court order in December, but the numbers were modest. The US Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 26 over whether and how Biden can end the policy.

With COVID-19 infection rates declining, the government announced on April 1 that it would end Title 42’s authority on May 23. Some Democratic congressmen joined Republican leaders in arguing that the move was premature and the government unprepared. The Department of Homeland Security says it is preparing for up to 18,000 daily crossings.

On Thursday, 18 states joined Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri in a federal lawsuit to maintain Title 42’s authority. The additional states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. Texas is conspicuously absent.

WHAT DOES TEXAS DO?

Last year, Abbott launched a multibillion-dollar border security mission that deployed thousands of state police and National Guard members, erected new border barriers and jailed migrants for trespassing. Abbott, who is running for re-election in November, made it the cornerstone of his administration.

Texas, which played a role like California during Trump’s presidency, has been a major legal opponent of immigration policy changes. It joined Missouri in the Supreme Court case to end “Staying In Mexico.”

After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Title 42’s authority was ending, Abbott began inspecting commercial vehicles in addition to CBP’s independent inspections, causing significant delays and backlash from its pro-business allies. He also chartered buses to Washington, D.C. for migrants who volunteered to take them.

On Friday, Abbott lifted inspections entirely after announcing agreements with neighboring Mexican governors on border security, but said he would not hesitate to reintroduce them in the future. Migrants are only stopped at ports of entry in about 5% of CBP encounters. The vast majority cross mountains, deserts, and cities between official crossings.

The dynamics of drug seizures are different: fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and other hard narcotics are mostly seized at official checkpoints rather than between them. Their compact size and lack of odor make them extremely difficult to detect.

IS SOME OF THAT NEW UNDER BIDEN?

No, there have been several migration spikes since 2014, with three presidents being dogged by a broken asylum system. The United States became the world’s top destination for asylum seekers in 2017.

Immigration experts speak of “push” factors, which force migrants to leave their homes, and “pull” factors, which relate to policies in destination countries that can influence decisions about where to go.

“Push” factors include hurricanes, violence, political oppression and poverty, while “pull” factors include actual or perceived changes in US policy. A widely cited “pull” factor is a severely backward US asylum system; It takes an immigration judge, on average, four years to rule on an application from non-detainees.

Last month, the Biden administration introduced a long-discussed and potentially significant change to expand asylum officials’ powers to decide on applications, not just initial reviews. It’s designed to decide cases in months rather than years, but officials say there are no additional funds for the launch, which is expected in late May, and expect a slow start.

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Spagat reported from San Diego.

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