Southern California communities are expecting to be “deeply impacted” by the end of Title 42, a coronavirus-era policy that allowed the U.S. to turn away asylum seekers at the southern border.
Between the state’s proximity to Mexico and a sizable immigrant population that already calls California home, the changes at the border may result in more asylum seekers settling in Southern California, whether with family or at any number of the shelters here, experts say.
“California, especially Southern California being so close to the border, has always seen a lot of immigrants,” said Alvaro Huerta, director of litigation and advocacy for the Los Angeles Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“But now the shelters and nonprofit organizations that help folks across the border are at or beyond capacity, and they need infrastructure and more resources in order to be able to assist as many people as they can,” Huerta said.
Title 42, which allowed the U.S. to quickly turn away migrants at the border, expired late Thursday night. The Biden administration has put in place other policies meant to stop people from coming into the country illegally, but the U.S. has said it will accept up to 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela under certain conditions (like having a sponsor) as well as up to 100,000 people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who already have family in the country.
“Because there are so many immigrants that are living in California, some of the people attempting to cross are family members, children and parents,” said Lauren Heidbrink, an immigration expert and professor at Cal State Long Beach.
In Riverside County, where six temporary sheltering sites are located, officials anticipate a “significant stress” on resources. Facilities there are already at 95% capacity, according to City News Service.
“It remains to be seen what the local impact will be in the coming days, weeks or months when Title 42 expires,” county executive officer Jeff Van Wagenen recently said. “It is likely that we will see an increase in the number of individuals released by (California Border Patrol). This will cause significant stress to the system.”
According to the annual report of refugees and asylees released by the Department of Homeland Security in March, California, Washington and Texas resettled the most refugees in 2020. And according to the California Immigrant Data Portal, Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles counties in recent years were the top destinations for refugees in California, one of four states bordering Mexico.
The consensus among many officials and immigration experts is there is still a lot left to be figured out.
“Frankly, I think a lot of the information is still very much up in the air,” Huerta said. “It’s still very unclear exactly how it’s all going to work.”
And Heidbrink worries that the additional restrictions on asylum seekers at the border could mean many are turned away, unable to unite with family in California or elsewhere in the U.S.
Huerta wants to see more social workers, asylum officers and judges who can adjudicate cases sent to the border during this change.
About 200 Marines from Camp Pendleton will be sent to the border to aid agents with the first wave of service members arriving on Friday and the remaining troops arriving between May 27 and June 5.
Since 2019, California has invested around $1 billion in supporting some 350,000 asylum seekers, including providing medical screenings, vaccinations, temporary shelter, food and clothing, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office. California also supports several migrant shelters, travel staging sites and temporary sheltering facilities in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties.
Southern California lawmakers, too, say they are concerned about a shortage of resources at the border.
Rep. Lou Correa, an Anaheim Democrat who has visited multiple ports of entry between the U.S. and Mexico in recent weeks, said California has a “strong infrastructure at the border that enables us to process people a lot more efficiently” — and yet still, border patrol agents are saying more resources, including personnel, are needed.
“It just perplexes me that everybody talks about the fact that we have a border challenge, and yet, we’re not putting the resources where the men and women at the border tell me they need them,” Correa said.
“After several visits to the border, it’s evident to me we must do things differently,” echoed Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. “We’ve got to increase funding for effective border security measures; we’ve got to upgrade our processing systems.”
Republican Rep. Young Kim, on the other hand, supported extending the COVID-era policy. But she argues “ending programs like Title 42 … without replacements to help border patrol prevent overcrowding of facilities will make our border crisis even worse.”
But at least a few experts believe the immediate surge will only be temporary due to the backlog of those seeking refuge and other global conditions.
“We’ve barely lived up to our responsibilities of assessing people’s claims for asylum in a fair and accurate way,” said Marisa Cianciarulo, a Chapman University law professor and immigration law attorney. “Claims have continued to be processed, but there have been significant delays.”
Heidbrink, the Cal State Long Beach professor, agrees.
“There will be an immediate uptick in migration given that over 1 million people have been turned away under Title 42,” Heidbrink said. “And over time, we’ll see that we’ll return to pretty seasonal increases and dips in migration.”
Correa, the top Democrat on the Border Security and Enforcement Subcommittee, said the federal government must invest in more funding for asylum processing, expand programs that allow refugees to live in and work in the U.S. for a period of time, increase personnel at the border and “get away from the politics.”
“The solution is not to vote on one or two bills the way we’re going to do, and get up and say we fixed the refugee problem,” Correa said. “The solution is going to be long-term.”