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What is Title 42 and how has the US used it to combat migration?


WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is introducing new restrictions on its southern border to try to prevent migrants from crossing the border illegally and instead encourage them to apply for asylum online through a new process.

The changes come with the end of coronavirus asylum restrictions, which have allowed the US to quickly return migrants at the US-Mexico border for the past three years. Those restrictions are known as Title 42, because the authority comes from Title 42 of a 1944 public health law that authorizes migration restrictions in the name of protecting public health.

Disinformation swirls and confusion ensues during the transition. A look at the new rules (and the old ones):


Title 42 is the name of an emergency health agency. It is a holdover from the Trump administration and it began in March 2020. The authority allowed US officials to turn away migrants coming to the US-Mexico border on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Before then, migrants could cross illegally, apply for asylum, and be allowed into the US. They were then screened and often released to await their immigration cases.

Under Title 42, migrants were returned across the border and denied the right to seek asylum. US officials have rejected migrants more than 2.8 million times. Families and children traveling alone were exempt.

But there were no real consequences if someone crossed the border illegally. Migrants could therefore try to cross again and again, assuming they would reach the US

President Joe Biden initially kept Title 42 in place after taking office, then sought to end its use in 2022. Republicans sued, arguing that the restrictions were necessary border security. Courts enforced the rules. But the Biden administration announced in January that it was ending national COVID-19 emergencies, and so the border restrictions are now disappearing.

Biden has said the new changes are necessary, in part because Congress has not passed immigration reform in decades.


As of Thursday 11:59 PM EDT, Title 42 restrictions will be lifted.

The Biden administration has introduced a series of new policies to curb illegal crossings. The government says it is trying to prevent people from paying smuggling operations to make a dangerous and often deadly journey.

Now there will be strict consequences. Migrants who have crossed illegally are not allowed to return for five years. If they do, they could face criminal charges.


Under US and international law, anyone who comes to the US can apply for asylum. People from all over the world come to the US-Mexico border to seek asylum in the US. They are screened to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. Their case then goes to immigration court to determine whether they can stay in the US, but that process could take years. Usually they are released in the US to await their case.

The Biden administration is now turning down anyone seeking asylum who did not first seek protection in a country they traveled through, or first apply online. This is a version of a Trump administration policy that has been overturned by the courts, so it’s not clear if this restriction will hold. A lawsuit is expected.


The US has said it will accept up to 30,000 a month from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba as long as they come by plane, have a sponsor and sign up online first. The government will also allow up to 100,000 people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who have relatives here to enter the US if they also apply online. Border officials will deport people otherwise, including turning down 30,000 a month Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba cross the border to Mexico again.

Other migrants can also be admitted if they register via the CBP One app. At the moment, 740 people per day are allowed through the app and they are increasing this to 1,000 per day.


Families crossing the border illegally face a curfew and the head of the household must wear an ankle bracelet. Immigration officials will try within 30 days to determine whether a family can stay in the US or be deported. Usually that process would take years.

The administration considered detaining families until they approved the first asylum searches, but opted instead for the curfew, which runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and begins soon in Baltimore; Chicago; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C., according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. Families who fail to show up for their screening interviews are rounded up by immigration authorities and deported.


Border patrol stations are intended to temporarily house migrants and have no capacity to hold the number of people that come. Some stations are already too busy. As a result, agents began releasing migrants in the US with instructions to show up at an immigration office within 60 days or face deportation.

Officers were also told to begin releases in any area where detention facilities are 125% full or where the average time in custody exceeds 60 hours. They would also release if 7,000 migrants were taken into custody across the border one day.

That has already happened. About 10,000 people were arrested on Tuesday. This could spell trouble for Biden administration officials trying to crack down on those who come in.

Florida has filed a lawsuit to claim the releases violate a previous court order.


US officials plan to open 100 regional migration hubs in the Western Hemisphere where people can come and seek placement in another country, including Canada and Spain.

There will be hubs in Colombia and Guatemala, but it is not clear where the others will be. It is also not clear when they will be operational.


Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.