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Senior Administration Officials On New Regional Migration Management Measures

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today’s background call.  Today’s call will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials and embargoed until 11:00 A.M.  For your information only and not for reporting, joining us today are [Senior Administration Official One], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official One; [Senior Administration Official Two], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Number Two; and [Senior Administration Official Three], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Three.

Our speakers will give brief opening remarks and then we’ll turn it over for questions.  And with that, I’ll turn it over to our first speaker, Senior Administration Official Number One.  [Senior Administration Official One], over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Good morning.   In just a couple of hours, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas will announce improved access to lawful pathways to the United States for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, as well as efforts to increase border security and cooperation in South and Central America.  Addressing the challenges of irregular migration, providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers, and offering legal – lawful migration pathways are key priorities for the Biden-Harris administration.

Forced displacement in the Western Hemisphere accounts for one-fifth of the world’s more than 100 million forcibly displaced persons.  Migration affects every country in the region.  No one country can provide solutions for millions of displaced people on its own.  The announcement today will underscore the work that we do with our partner nations to bolster access to protection for those who need it, help support their efforts to integrate refugees and migrants into their communities, expand access to lawful pathways in the United States, and strengthen the capacities of countries to humanely manage their borders.

And this is why one of the key elements in today’s announcement will be an innovative response to this shared regional challenge: Regional Processing Centers.  I’ll go into details on those further on.

By increasing efforts to counter smuggling through security cooperation with the governments of Panama and Colombia, as well as increased efforts to identify people in need of resettlement or eligible for other lawful pathways, we will reduce the need for irregular movements through the hemisphere.  This will allow people to access regular pathways to the United States and other countries in ways that are safe, orderly, and humane.

This comprehensive plan works in tandem with the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and the Root Causes Strategy, which we announced early in the administration, and we continue to implement them.  It also builds on the June 2020 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.  That declaration brought 21 countries from the region together around a common understanding of regional migration challenges and shared commitments to stability and assistance, expansion of lawful pathways, and access to international protection, humane migration management, and coordinated emergency response.

The United States is making lawful pathways for migration more accessible from within South and Central America as an alternative for people from taking an often-dangerous journey to the U.S. southwest border.  Lawful pathways help migrants travel safely, enter the United States lawfully, rather than paying for dubious help from migrant smugglers and criminal organizations.

Conflict, violence, persecution, human rights violation abuses, economic hardship, as well as the impacts of climate change push people to undertake these dangerous journeys.  To address these challenges and to add to the comprehensive regional approach we have undertaken, we are adding several actions over the coming weeks, including significantly expanding access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Resettlement Program and other lawful pathways through the innovative…or…Regional Processing Centers, and working with hemispheric partners to address security at one of the most dangerous junctures, the Darien.

In terms of the Regional Processing Centers provide easier access to lawful pathways, the United States will use Regional Processing Centers to expediate prescreening of individuals for lawful pathways to the United States.  These new centers will be implemented by international organization partners.  Individuals will speak to specialists, be screened, and if eligible they’ll refer – they’ll be referred for refugee resettlement or other lawful pathways such as parole programs, family reunification, or existing labor pathways.

The Regional Processing Centers will also provide information on local options, including regularization opportunities in the host countries and available social services.  U.S. criteria for refugee resettlement will not change.  However, through this expanded effort, we expect to identify more eligible individuals.  Our priority in the region continues to be to focus on regularization and integration efforts, but we are working on this Regional Processing Center initiative to refer individuals from the region for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  These will be primarily nationals of the Western Hemisphere and Caribbean countries.

We’re fortunate to have partners in the region and beyond who seek to support migrants and refugees and who’ll share our determination to provide protection and structure to vulnerable populations.  That is why we’re thrilled that both Spain and Canada have indicated that they will accept referrals from Regional Processing Centers.  It’s this sort of partnership and collaboration that will help address the challenges of irregular migration and forced displacement in the hemisphere.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Two].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One], and thanks, everybody, for joining us today.

I’d like to start with just an overview of our plans to transition to Title 8 processing once Title 42 ends on May 11th.  And I’d just highlight that, as I think everybody knows, Title 42 was a temporary, pandemic-era public health measures that required the government and DHS to immediately expel migrants to Mexico or their home countries without allowing them to make claims for relief.  Just like all extraordinary pandemic-era measures, Title 42 is coming to an end because the national public health emergency is ending, in large part due to the efforts of this administration to provide Americans with the tools to protect themselves from COVID-19.

The end of Title 42 does not mean, however, that the border is open.  When Title 42 lifts, the government will return to Title 8 processing, a longstanding immigration enforcement authority that administrations from both parties have used historically to process individuals encountered at the border.

Individuals who enter the country and who do not establish a legal basis to remain will continue to be promptly removed from the United States.  Additionally, unlike Title 42, in which migrants who were expelled could keep trying to come back to the country with no consequences, Title 42[i] carries additional, stiffer consequences for unlawful migration, which include at least a five-year ban on re-entry, as well as potential criminal prosecutions for repeated attempts to cross unlawfully.

As we have discussed in the past, this administration has been preparing for the end of Title 42 for well over a year and has taken a number of key steps to do that.  As we transition to Title 8 processing, individuals who unlawfully cross the U.S. border will generally, to the extent we have capacity, be processed under Title 8 expedited removal authorities, which will allow us to adjudicate any potential fear claims in a matter of days.

We have been spending a lot of time and energy over the last year identifying efficiencies in our Title 8 expedited removal processes, and we will bring them all to bear on this challenge in the coming days and weeks.  That will include conducting some expedited removal processing in CPB facilities, and we have been adding phone booths and private spaces in those facilities in order to facilitate interviews both with asylum officers and immigration judges but also for access to counsel purposes.  We are committed to due process and to allowing individuals to access counsel, if counsel is available.

The measures that we are implementing today are really modeled on what we view as the success of the Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela processes that show that the application of a significant consequence at the border with the significant expansion of lawful pathways can significantly reduce irregular migration, alter migratory patterns, not just to the U.S. but throughout the region.

You heard from our colleagues at the Department of State the exciting efforts that they are undertaking to create Regional Processing Centers.  We at DHS are also announcing today an expansion of the Family Reunification Parole Program to cover the northern Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, as well as Colombia.  We are also announcing today that we will continue the Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela process once Title 42 ends, and that will include both the parole processes and our intention to return individuals to Mexico who do not establish a legal basis to remain in the U.S.

And we are also announcing today an expansion of appointments under the CPB One application for individuals who are in central and northern Mexico and would like to present at a port of entry to be considered for potentially an asylum claim.

We are also announcing today significant consequences for those who do not use these expanded lawful pathways.  Those consequences include, as I noted, a significant expansion of expedited removal processing at the border.  They include our intent to finalize the lawful pathways rule that was announced on January 5th and that we have been taking comments on.  That rule will create a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility for individuals who do not avail themselves of the dramatically expanded lawful pathways that we are making available and who also do not schedule an interview – I’m sorry, an appointment through the CBP One application to present at a port of entry or who do not claim asylum in one of the countries that they are traveling through.

The last thing I’d note is that we have, over the last year, dramatically increased resources at the border as we prepare for what we anticipate will be an increase in irregular migration after the lifting of Title 42.  We have 24,000 agents and officer working on the border every day to secure our border at and between ports of entry.  We have – are hiring 300 additional Border Patrol agents this year.  That’s the first increase in Border Patrol staffing of that scale in quite a while, and we are asking for more in our FY24 budget.

I would note, however, that we are fully cognizant that many of these measures are vulnerable to litigation.  We are confident that we are operating within our statutory authority, but there is no lasting solution here that does not involve Congress updating our hopelessly outdated immigration laws.

With that, I will stop there and turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three].

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Three].  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Great.  Thank you, and good morning, everyone.  Just a few closing points.  We really wanted to make sure it’s clear to everyone that with this shift from Title 42 to Title 8 it does not mean that the border is open.  In fact, as [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned, returning to regular order under Title 8 means that you will once again be able to – that we will once again be able to impose significant consequences for those who fail to avail themselves of the many legal pathways that we have announced today and that already exist.

Second, what you heard from my colleagues, both from the State Department and DHS, is a significant plan that is really at a level of ambition and scale that has never been done before – what we’re doing at our border, what we’re doing in the region, the number of legal pathways that we’re opening, partnering with other countries to also open legal pathways to their countries, the Regional Processing Centers, the 60-day surge plan.  However, there is far more that we could do with – if we had the cooperation of Congress.  They have really tied our hands, and so we really do appeal to Congress to work with us.  We sent a bill – President Biden sent a bill to Congress on day one, and we really need their support to be able to truly address this challenge.

And last, I just want to point out that what will happen in a few hours is quite significant, to have Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas stand at the podium together.  What this represents is the way in which the Biden-Harris administration is addressing this challenge.  This is – a border-only approach cannot work.  We need to work hand-in-glove with our regional partners, and that’s what we’re doing under the framework of the Los Angeles Declaration.  As we mentioned, we’ll be establishing Regional Processing Centers in key countries in the region to facilitate far more legal pathways than have ever been done before.  We are cooperating on counter-smuggling initiatives with countries like Panama and Colombia.

So this is a regional effort.  That’s how we’ve been approaching this from the beginning, and especially at this critical moment we know that we all have to work together.  Many of the countries in this region are impacted even more than we are by these – the level of displacement that we’re seeing in the Western Hemisphere at this time.

I’ll stop there, and we’ll open it up for questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Operator, could you please repeat the instructions for joining the question queue quickly?

OPERATOR:  Absolutely.  Thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen on the phone lines, if you wish to ask a question today, please press 1 followed by the 0.  You’ll hear an acknowledgment you’ve been placed in queue.  You can take yourself out of the queue by simply pressing the 1-0 command again.  Again, for questions, please press 1 followed by 0.

And one moment, please, for our first question.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Could we please go to the line of Camilo Montoya from CBS News?

OPERATOR:  Please go ahead, Camilo.  Camilo?

QUESTION:  Hello. Yes.  Can you hear me?

OPERATOR:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yep.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Great.  First one: Can you confirm, [Senior Administration Official Two], that Venezuelans, Cubans, Nigerians, and Haitians will still be subject to removal to Mexico once Title 42 is lifted?  I think you implied that, but I want to make sure we get that confirmed.  And then can you just go over – maybe the State Department folks can do this – the categories of visas and programs that people will be vetted for at these processing centers?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah.  Hi, Camilo.  It is our intention to continue to return nationals of those four countries who do not establish a legal basis to remain to Mexico once Title 42 lifts.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Hi, this is [Senior Administration Official One].  So individuals will be screened first for refugee resettlement and then, if not found amenable for refugee resettlement, they will also be looked at in terms of the various parole programs, family reunification program, existing labor pathways.  And our international organization partners will also be providing them with information on local options.  Many of the countries in the region have been very generous and have been doing regularization opportunities so that people can integrate locally, social services that are available locally as well.  So it’s a kind of all-encompassing, wraparound effort.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thanks so much.  Could we please go to the line of Nick Miroff from The Washington Post?

QUESTION:  Morning.  Thanks for doing the call.  I’ve got just some basic questions about the Regional Processing Centers.  Are these actual physical locations or will they be located like at U.S. consulates?  If so, if they are separate locations, where are they going to be and how many do you anticipate?  And is there going to be any penalty for someone who crosses the southwest border seeking asylum who hasn’t gone to one of these centers first?  Is it – will it create some sort of ineligibility, along the lines of the transit rule?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you.  So first and foremost, they will definitely not be at U.S. embassies or consulates.  These will be separate processing centers run by international organization partners.  We will be relying initially on existing centers that these partners have to begin processing, so that we can initiate this effort rapidly, and then later on we may be establishing separate centers.

We are still in – working on the exact numbers.  However, we are thankful for partnership with Colombia and Guatemala and anticipate that we will be rolling out these centers there shortly.  I think I got all of your questions.  Thanks.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  And – sorry, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  This is something – this is [Senior Administration Official Three] – just to say, Nick, we’ll have a lot more to share on the Regional Processing Centers in the next week or two.  We wanted to announce it today, and I’m really pleased to have Colombia and Guatemala partnering with us on this, as well as Canada and Spain, but a lot more details to come.

And similar to what you saw with CHNV, where we – people are able to access and make an appointment, and CBP One, we will be rolling out a virtual appointment system so that individuals are able to make an appointment to go to one of these centers, where they will then, as [Senior Administration Official One] noted, have the chance to be screened by a specialist and referred to the many different legal pathways.

So just to say that we really look forward to talking to all of you about this in the coming weeks.  But this is a brand-new concept, and so some of the details we won’t be able to share today.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  And just a quick reminder before we continue, for anyone who joined late.  Today’s call is on background, attributable to Senior Administration Officials and embargoed until 11:00 a.m.

With that, I’ll go to the next questioner.  If we could please go to Priscilla Alvarez from CNN.

QUESTION:  So far the Regional Processing Centers are up and running in Colombia and Guatemala.  And again, just to piggyback off Nick, how many are you anticipating?  And then separately, what – in someone showing up at these centers, do they have an expedited screening?  Often what we hear is that the Refugee Admissions Program and other legal pathways take time, and some people are trying to desperately flee a situation.  So how are you addressing that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks so much, Priscilla.  So they are not up and running today.  So they will be, as the other official noted, some details we will not be able to share today, but they will be up and running in the coming weeks.  And we will have more details on the numbers and how to make an appointment and access the virtual appointment system and so forth.

To your question in terms of waiting times for the – for refugee processing, this has been something that the administration has been working on just robustly over the past two years.  In the last month alone, we have doubled admissions numbers.  There – these are – the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is looking at ways to expedite and is working on its systems and processes to make them more efficient and to make them faster.  And this will be certainly used in the Regional Processing Center effort so that people can be referred and have the ability to move in much less time than in the past.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Could we please go to the line of – I’ve got Julian Ainsley – apologies for any mispronunciation – from NBC News.

QUESTION:  Hey, I’ll wear it.  It sounds like a good new name.  This is Julia Ainsley, and I just had a question about any cooperation with Mexico.  If you – how many people have they agreed to take back per month?  And are there any nationalities other than HNCV countries that Mexico has also agreed to take back?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE :  I’m happy to take that one.  So we have excellent cooperation with Mexico on migration, and as my colleague from DHS outlined earlier, the success of the parole process that we launched together with Mexico in January has led to a sustained 95 percent drop in encounters for Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela since January, and so we will – we’re looking to of course preserve that successful program.  A lot of what we’re – what we announced today is building on the success of that alongside additional partners.  It can’t just be the U.S. and Mexico.  We know this needs to be a hemispheric wide approach, but we are – we talk to Mexico every week.  They’re such a critical partner to us on migration.  We’re incredibly grateful for the partnership and everything that they do to help manage these flows, provide access to protection to migrants and refugees.  So it’s a – I can’t underscore the collaboration that we have with them.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Can we please go to the line of Alejandra Arredondo from EFE News?

QUESTION:  Good morning.  Thank you so much for doing this.  I just want to clarify first, which countries are going to be where the processing centers are going to be created?  And then [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned something – the second thing is, the people from Guatemala – I’m sorry – from Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba who are turned back to Mexico, will they also be barred from applying from asylum for four years – five years under Title 8?  And then the other question is, [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned something about people who did not claim asylum in one of the countries they are traveling to would also be expelled.  Can you elaborate on that?  Thank you so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  For your first question, just to say that we are announcing today that we will be establishing Regional Processing Centers in Colombia and in Guatemala, but we are in discussions with other countries in the region.  We view this as an approach regionwide where we would make it easier for migrants that seek to come to the United States or go to other countries like Spain and Canada that they would be able to stay where they are, make an appointment, and access a center.  This is really a historic move and something we’re really excited to be able to announce.

And so as my colleague from the State Department mentioned, when people make an appointment at these centers and then – and go and meet with a specialist, they will be screened for a wide range of different legal pathways: everything from the family unification parole programs that we just mentioned to expedited refugee resettlement.  And we have made such incredible strides in the last two years to reduce the processing time to really streamline and make more efficient refugee processing.  And so that is a protection tool that we think is much more accessible now than it ever was before.

And so we expect to be able to pretty dramatically increase the number of refugees we admit from the Western Hemisphere through the Regional Processing Centers.  But of course, labor pathways to not only our country but to Spain, Canada, so many of our countries are facing labor shortages.  We – it’s in our interest to make it possible for people to come to work and live in our countries, and we want to – we – this is one way in which we’re creating a really orderly process for people to do that.

So, again, more to come.  I know you all are eager for details, and we really look forward to engaging with you on this, but just to say this is the first step, making the announcement today.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  And with regards to the other two questions, so individual – once we return to Title 8 processing at the border, individuals who are processed through expedited removal, do not establish a legal basis to remain in the U.S. and receive a final order of removal and are removed, will receive a five year ban.  It doesn’t matter where they are removed to, whether it is their home country or Mexico; if they receive a final order of removal, they will receive that five year ban.

And with regards to the lawful pathways rule that we intend to finalize by May 12th, as that rule essentially creates a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility for individuals who do not avail themselves of one of these dramatically expanded lawful pathways that we are making available, do not schedule their safe, orderly presentation at a point of entry through the CBP One application, or do not make an asylum claim in one of the countries that they traveled through.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll go to the line of Pedro Rojas from Univision.

QUESTION:  Thanks for taking my call.  I just wanted to find a little more details about the processing centers.  Is there going to be a workflow – is there a cap on numbers of people that can go through them or how the mechanics will be about allowing folks to come all the way to the states?  Are they going to get on a flight?  What will be the process after folks approved for it?  Thanks again.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks, Pedro.  So the idea is, of course, that people will not continue their journey over land, right.  The whole idea of Regional Processing Centers is to give people a lawful, safe, regular way to enter the United States.  So they would be flying in if – through those centers after they are made – they – if they are amenable to one of the pathways from one of the centers.  So that is how the process will work.  And as my colleague said, we are – we have – we will be setting these centers up in two countries right now, but the idea is to set them up in additional countries so that people do not have to cross multiple countries to avail themselves of protection and lawful pathways.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much. That unfortunately is all the time we have for questions.  I’d like to turn the call over to [Senior Administration Official Three] for closing remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Great.  Thank you, everyone.  We – just in closing, the Biden-Harris administration views this as a regional approach to dealing with the migration challenge.  You will hear today from Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas the many ways in which we are augmenting our response at our southwest border and across the region hand-in-hand with our foreign partners.  And we look forward to being in touch with you more over the course of the next couple weeks as we implement these key measures.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  That does conclude today’s call, which as a reminder was on background to senior administration officials and embargoed until 11:00 a.m.  Thank you all so much for joining, and have a great day.  Thank you.

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[i] …Title 8…

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/senior-administration-officials-on-new-regional-migration-management-measures/

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