Migrants from Central America and Mexico face no legal hazards for making repeated attempts to sneak through the border.
The no-penalty border policy was spotlighted by a 35-year-old Guatemalan migrant identified only as Nicolas, who works Houston construction jobs.
“On his seventh shot – squeezing himself into a wedge on a cargo train for a harrowing seven-hour ride to Texas – he made it,” Reuters reported May 21.
The smugglers have changed their business model to exploit the no-penalty policy imposed by President Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees U.S. border security.
Nicolas twice tried to cross the border in 2019, but both times, President Donald Trump’s deputies deported him 1,000 miles back to Guatemala, leaving him on Square One and deeply in debt.
In 2021, Mayorkas merely expels apprehended migrants back the five-yard line in Mexico, leaving them to try again after a short rest.
In response, Nicolas told Reuters that the smugglers are offering their customers a guaranteed deal that covers unlimited attempts for three months, plus free room and board while the expelled migrants rest up on the southern side of the border.
Reuters reported on the Mayorkas-era border-crossing deal:
After Nicolas was caught another four times trying to cross the river, the smugglers tried a new tactic. They led him with other migrants into the desert to await a cargo train headed into Texas. After five days with little food and water, the train arrived one night at 3 a.m. Nicolas squeezed into a slot above the wheel and held on for the seven-hour trip to the Texas town of Agua Dulce.
They were caught when a drone alerted migration agents to their arrival, Nicolas said, and once more, they sent him to Mexico. For a second time, he clung to the bottom of the dusty cargo train to reach Texas.
This time, his luck held. Nicolas now lives in Houston and picks up construction jobs outside a Home Depot store,
Migrants say the Mayorkas’ no-penalty policy is good for them.
“That’s the wonderful thing now,” Lucio Portillo, a 44-year-old Honduran migrant, told the Wall Street Journal on March 24. “You have the opportunity to bat again and again — that’s better for us,” he said.
In fact, migrants such as Nicolas are under brutal pressure to make repeated runs. That is because many of them mortgage their farms and homes, hoping they can be one of the many migrants who are being allowed to cross the border by Mayorkas’ lax policies.
In April, roughly 40,000 migrants won the chutes-and-ladders game and won “got away” status by slipping past Mayorkas’ often-distracted border guards.
Biden’s deputies and pro-migration groups blame the recidivism on the Trump-era Title 42 barrier, allowing border officials to quickly expel Mexican and Latin American migrants back into Mexico during the pandemic.
“I think Title 42 lends itself to a higher recidivism rate,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Troy Miller testified before a House panel this week. “However, that being said, we’re able to process these folks and send them back relatively quickly, keeping them out of our facilities and keeping the facilities decompressed.”
Reuters also spotlighted the Title 42 rule.
“If the goal is border management, Title 42 isn’t working,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, which advocates for migrants in the United States, told the news outlet. “It has led more people to cross the border more times.”
But the Title 42 rule does not explain why Mayorkas chooses to return migrants to Mexico instead of flying them back to Central America as Trump’s deputies did.
And on May 13, Mayorkas admitted in a Senate hearing that he is considering changing his no-penalty policy for migrants who make repeated runs at the border.
“There is recidivism when an individual is expelled under Title 42, a single adult, we have seen that same individual return, only to be expelled again, and that’s one of the things that we’re looking at in terms of a consequence regime,” he testified.
Mayorkas did not explain what he meant by a “consequence regime.”