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U.S. to open migrant processing centers in Latin America to ease border crunch, fight human trafficking

The Biden administration is opening migrant processing centers in Latin America, increasing some pathways to legally enter the U.S., and expediting deportations for migrants who don't use these new tools, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Thursday. The new measures are part of the administration's plan to avert a surge in migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border after pandemic-era Title 42 measures expire on May 11. 

The first two external migrant processing centers will be in Guatemala and Colombia, and they will initially consider at least 5,000 requests a month for asylum, refugee status, and other pathways to legally enter the U.S., Canada, or Spain. Mayorkas did not say when the first two centers will open, but the administration is working with other countries to open more centers. One goal, Biden administration officials say, is to provide enough options that migrants will stop making the dangerous, expensive trip to the U.S. border, often by paying human smugglers. 

There have already been a near-record number of migrants trying to cross the border illegally in recent years, and the White House is expecting that number to jump once Title 42 ends. Since former President Donald Trump's administration invoked the public health measure in March 2020, immigration officials have used it to carry out 2.7 million expedited deportations to Mexico or a migrant's home country.

Under the new policies, "those who arrive at our border who do not have a legal basis to stay, who have made the journey, often having suffered horrific trauma and having paid their life savings to the smugglers" will be deported, "most often in a matter of days or just a few weeks" and may be barred from entering the U.S. for five years, Mayorkas said. "Let me be clear, our border is not open and it will not be open after May 11."