The recent expiration of Title 42 application to U.S. immigration processing protocols along the U.S.-Mexico border has put into the limelight a problem previously on the back burner. Starting from May 12, the COVID-19 pandemic-era policy that allowed for the rapid expulsion of migrants seeking asylum is no longer valid.
Title 42 is the entire section of U.S. federal regulations that pertain to public health. In recent years, however, it has come to refer to a specific rule within that section to block noncitizens from entering the country due to public health concerns.
This policy was introduced and implemented by the Donald Trump administration in the early stages of the pandemic. Incumbent President Joe Biden kept this rule in place after he took office. Since March 2020, Title 42 had been cited more than 2.8 million times to quickly expel migrants to Mexico or their respective home countries.
Recent years have seen huge number of migrants from Mexico and other Caribbean countries pouring onto the US-Mexico border. Migrant caravans heading north were hot topics in the news and social media a couple of years ago.
Trump promised to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico when running for the White House. His administration only completed several hundred miles of border fencing, inadequate to effectively prevent illegal crossing.
The pandemic provided a quick fix for his administration to address the migration issue, citing public health threat and applying Title 42 to expel migrants in a speedy manner.
With the lifting of Title 42, analysts expect a huge surge of migrants trying to enter the U.S. The processing of migrants who enter U.S. border custody has returned to pre-pandemic protocols, known as Title 8. The number of people waiting at the southern border is at historic highs, putting immense pressure on the immigration authorities.
Behind the migration conundrum is the “U.S. First” global policy initiated by the Trump administration and strengthened by the Biden White House. U.S. companies are discouraged from investing abroad. Key industrial policies and government subsidies, from chips to electric vehicles, are only applicable to finished products or key components manufactured on home soil.
The focus on building domestic manufacturing capacity and bringing back jobs is beneficial to U.S. employment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent high inflation, unemployment rates in the U.S. are at historic lows. Wage inflation and workplace improvements make it more attractive for Mexican and Caribbean migrants to seek opportunities in the U.S.
An influx of migrants is actually good for the U.S. economy, providing a much needed productive factor to ease its labor shortage. Statistics by the Migration Policy Institute show that people of working age (18 to 64 years) comprised 77% of the immigrant population in 2019. More labor will also ease wage inflation, helpful in cooling down the overall inflation in the economy.
Illegal immigrants in America are demographically young. Statista estimated that in 2018 about 59%, or 3.46 million, male illegal immigrants living in the U.S. were aged between 25 and 44. In that same year, around 3.11 million female illegal immigrants living in the country, or 56%, were of the same age group.
Steady population growth aided by a large number of migrants will be conducive to the long-term growth of U.S. economy which is consumption driven. Abundant migrants will provide secular demand, paving the way for stable growth down the road.
That said, there is also a dark side of illegal immigrants entering the country without due process. Drug trafficking and offenders with criminal records pose a threat to the stability and security of society, which was the key rationale for Trump to propose his border wall.
Currently, legal and orderly migration processing is the challenge on hand. Longer processing times will likely result in a bottleneck at ports of entry and detention centers, which will put a strain on federal, state and local government resources.
Insufficient infrastructure, coupled with complications arising from constant and increasingly hostile political fighting, makes it more difficult to handle border migration issues in the post-Title 42 era.
(The author is an independent financial investor.)