BORDER SECURITYLifting Title 42 Restrictions Didn’t Result in Surge of Migration, After All – but Border Communities Are Still Facing Record-Breaking Migration

By Lydia Renee Cleveland, Alexandra P Leader, Erika Frydenlund

Published 8 June 2023

There were widespread predictions that there would be a surge of migration across the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2023, when Title 42 COVID-related restrictions were lifted. There was no surge, but even without it, migration across the U.S-Mexico border continues to trend upward and remains at record-breaking levels.

U.S. government officials and media alike made widespread predictions that there would be a surge of migration across the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2023.

That’s when the U.S. lifted an emergency health policy called Title 42 that allowed the government to turn away migrants at the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Title 42 ended in May 2023, but the number of migrants crossing into the border city of El Paso has actually decreased since then.

Even without a recent surge related to Title 42, however, migration across the U.S-Mexico border continues to trend upward and remains at record-breaking levels. Compared with the 16,182 migrants that U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered in April 2020, there were 206,239 encounters in November 2022.

For the past four years, we have researched host communities around the world that receive sudden arrivals of a large group of migrants.

In El Paso, Texas, our interviews with government agencies, migrant aid organizations and residents in 2019 and 2022 highlighted what the U.S. southern border region shares with other migrant host communities facing unprecedented levels of migration and displacement.

The Borderlands
Communities along the U.S.-Mexico border – sometimes called the Borderlands – have a long history serving as a corridor for migration.

El Paso even carries a name that is rooted in migration, coming from “el paso del norte,” which means “the passage to the north” in Spanish.

El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, are divided only by the Rio Grande River and a border wall. They were once united as one city until international boundaries were drawn in 1848.

In the weeks leading up to the end of Title 42, an estimated 35,000 migrants were waiting in Juarez to cross into El Paso.

U.S. Border Patrol agents generally work to monitor and manage goods and migration across the country’s border. They are also the ones who apprehend migrants and document their names and other personal information when they enter the U.S.

Typically, when U.S. border officials apprehend migrants crossing the border without documentation, they place them in detention centers. There, people can apply for asylum and await court dates to see if they qualify to stay in the U.S.– or they are deported back across the border.

In some cases, when there is a surge in migration, these detention centers – run by both the government and private companies – get full. So U.S. border officials sometimes release migrants into local communities to await future court dates.