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US to open migrant processing centers in Latin America

(NewsNation) — New migrant processing centers are being set up in Latin America to reduce the number of people coming into the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced in a news conference Thursday.

Regional processing centers will be established in what officials say are key locations throughout the Western Hemisphere, to facilitate “safe, orderly, humane and lawful pathways” from the Americas. 

“This is a hemispheric challenge that demands hemispheric solutions,” Mayorkas told reporters. “Working with our neighbors in the region, we can and will reduce the number of migrants who reach our southern border.”

These centers will be operated by international organization partners and improve qualified individuals’ access to refugee resettlement processing, family reunification, and labor pathways in the United States, Blinken said, and will be a referral point for lawful pathways and humanitarian refugee protections in countries like Spain and Canada. 

Blinken said these centers will prevent people from making the “dangerous journey” to the border “by providing a much safer legal option to migrate that they can pursue from their own countries. It’s a new and innovative approach that does right by people who want to migrate, and that enhances security and stability in the region.”

The first centers will be established in Colombia and Guatemala.

Specially trained refugee officers, who will interview applicants for the U.S. refugee admissions program, will be stationed there, Mayorkas said. 

This announcement comes weeks before the end of Title 42.

Title 42, which expires May 11, was a provision in the 1944 Public Health Service Act allowing the federal government to ban people from entering the country in the case of a pandemic, such as COVID-19. In March 2020, as infections began to rise from the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enacted the rule under former President Donald Trump.

With Title 42, Border Patrol agents were given the power to turn away migrants on public health grounds — even those attempting to seek asylum. Trump administration officials argued doing so would prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially in overcrowded immigration detention facilities.

Critics said the policy was inhumane and could send people back to countries where they face harm.

Border Patrol agents and others who have previously spoken to NewsNation expressed concerns that more migrants will attempt to come to the U.S. illegally as Title 42 is lifted.

Officials say, though, that security will be maintained as they go back to processing migrants under Title 8. Those who cross the border unlawfully are subject to criminal consequences, such as deportation and a five-year ban on reentering the United States, with Title 8.

“Let me be clear: Our border is not open, and will not be open after May 11,” Mayorkas stressed at the press conference.

Andrew Dorn and Ali Bradley contributed to this article.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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