Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP)

Explainer: U.S. Immigration Policies and Their Impact on Latin Americans

By Chase Harrison , Jennifer Vilcarino and Carin Zissis

From Title 42 to TPS, learn about major U.S. policies affecting Latin American migrants and asylum seekers.

As U.S. voters prepare to cast ballots in the midterms, immigration is once again again a major electoral issue. Some candidates are stirring up concerns about record numbers of apprehensions along the southern border in a bid to win votes. Moves by the Republican governors of Texas and Florida to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, New York, and Washington DC have dominated headlines and drawn debate. “If you ask Republicans, [immigration] is the number two issue” after inflation, Congressman Don Bacon, a Republican seeking reelection in Nebraska, told TIME last month.

But immigration is not a major concern for the second-biggest voting bloc in the country—Latinos. A new Washington Post-IPSOS poll found that the issue didn’t even make it into the top five for Latino voters. Only 5 percent of Latinos consider it a top issue, compared to 31 percent who named rising prices, 20 percent who picked abortion, and 10 percent who chose gun control. Still, as UnidosUS’ Clarissa Martínez de Castro explained in a recent Latin America in Focus podcast episode, “​​Even as Latinos go to the polls with the economy and jobs on their mind, immigration is still somewhere in their hearts.”

While some say the Biden administration is waiting until after the midterms to decide whether to make major immigration policy changes, it took steps in October to handle the rising number of Venezuelan migrants, saying it will admit 24,000 asylum seekers but will start to use Title 42—a Trump-era policy that the Biden government itself has sought to end—to block the entry of others into the United States.

As we head toward the November 8 midterms, where does U.S. immigration policy stand? AS/COA Online explores major active U.S. immigrations programs with a focus on how they affect Latin American migrants.

Title 42

This public health measure allows the United States to block the entry of migrants due to the threat of communicable disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enacted the policy in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic bore down, employing the rarely used Public Health Service Act of 1944. While the Trump administration spearheaded use of Title 42 as a means to send migrants to Mexico, it remains in place under Biden despite the president declaring that “the pandemic is over'' in September 2022. As of that month, over 2.3 million migrants had been expelled from the United States under this policy. Over 98 percent of Title 42 cases occurred at the southern border.

Title 42 is applied on a case-by-case basis, meaning not every migrant is automatically blocked from entry. For example, an estimated 20,000 Ukrainians seeking refuge in the United States were allowed to enter the United States through Mexico. Most migrants expelled under Title 42 are sent back across the border to Mexico, where they face dangerous conditions and often attempt to cross the border again. Some migrants are returned to their home countries, mainly in Central America, through the policy.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has pledged to end the measure with an original stated goal of sunsetting the policy by May 2022. Legal challenges, however, stymied the efforts to wind it down. In May, a federal district court blocked suspension of Title 42. With the measure still in place, the Biden administration began expelling Venezuelan asylum seekers, who were previously ineligible for deportation under Title 42, in October 2022.

Migrant Protection Protocols

The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), often referred to as Remain in Mexico, was a U.S. program that allowed the government to send migrants crossing the southwest border to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims were processed. The Trump administration unveiled MPP in December 2018, implementing it in January 2019. Some 70,000 migrants were sent back to Mexico under the program, and while nearly all were from Spanish-speaking countries, the program expanded in January 2020 to include Brazilian nationals. Migrants from other countries were either deported directly to their home countries or were allowed to stay in the United States while their asylum claims were processed.

Under MPP, large settlements of migrants cropped up in Mexico along the border. Conditions in these camps were squalid and dangerous with migrants vulnerable to criminal groups.

In the first few hours of his presidency, President Joe Biden stopped the policy of sending migrants back to Mexico under MPP and allowed migrants in Mexico to come to the United States to await their asylum hearings. This effectively ended MPP until a Texas district court ruled in August 2021 that the program had to be reinstated as the Biden administration hadn’t properly phased it out.

After complying with the court’s demands, the Department of Homeland Security announced once more in October 2021 that it was winding down the program. During the time MPP was reinstated under Biden, 5,000 migrants were placed in the program. As of publication, MPP officially ended, but some migrants remain in Mexico awaiting their asylum court proceedings.

Temporary Protected Status

This program, known as TPS, grants residence and work visas to U.S.-based foreign nationals who are unable to return to their home country due to natural disasters, armed conflict, or extraordinary conditions that would put their lives in danger. The country-level designations last six, 12, or 18 months and are frequently renewed. Five of the 15 countries currently designated for TPS are in the Americas: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Hondurans and Nicaraguans first gained TPS following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 while Salvadoran migrants did so in 2001 after an earthquake. Haitians also received the designation in 2010 following an earthquake, then gained it in again in 2021 amid rising security concerns and unrest. Given the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, that country’s nationals gained TPS in 2021.

Nearly 355,000 people had been approved for TPS as of February 2022, and the vast majority—nearly 340,000—were from Latin America and the Caribbean. While Salvadorans account for the largest group with 195,000 recipients, backlogged Haitian and Venezuela applications could lead to a sizeable increase in the number of TPS holders. As of September 2022, there were roughly 112,000 Venezuelan TPS beneficiaries, but an estimated 323,000 Venezuelans are eligible.

While many TPS holders have been in the United States for years or even decades, they find themselves stuck in immigration limbo, having to renew visas and facing the threat of TPS program suspension. The Trump administration sought to do just that with moves to end a number of TPS designations, including for El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua. However, a 2018 lawsuit prevented the suspensions, and the programs have remained active amid an appeals process. A 2021 Supreme Court decision prevents TPS holders who entered the country without authorization from gaining permanent residence. But, in July 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services restored a process allowing TPS holders to potentially leave the United States, regain authorized entry, and apply for green cards if married to or a parent of a U.S. citizen.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Known as DACA, this initiative prevents the deportation of unauthorized immigrant youth, often called Dreamers, who have been in the United States since 2007. As of June 2022, there were 594,120 DACA recipients, though more than a million people were eligible for the program as of 2021, per the Migration Policy Institute. Migrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala make up the largest number of DACA recipients, in that order. The decade-old immigration program has endured a number of changes—and legal challenges—throughout its lifetime.

In 2017, during the Trump administration, DHS rescinded DACA, which meant that Dreamers began to lose their work permits and protections from deportation. Then, in June 2020, the Supreme Court declared the move unconstitutional but did not rule on the legality of DACA. While DHS resumed processing DACA renewals, which must be done every two years, it did not accept new applications.

Biden pledged to establish a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and make them eligible for federal student aid, but the program has faced a series of legal challenges since he took office. In January 2021, he issued an executive order to “fortify and preserve” DACA, leading DHS to accept new applications. From that point until July 2021, DHS approved some 1,900 applications. At that point, a federal judge ruled the program illegal. The Department of Justice (DOJ) appealed the ruling, sending the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Biden announced that the DHS would propose a new rule that would implement DACA as a federal regulation, effectively circumventing the federal court decision. DHS issued that rule in August 2022, and it is set to take effect at the end of October.

At the same time, earlier this month, an appellate court backed the ruling preventing new applications, sending the case back to the Texas lower court to take up the new DHS regulation. As such, as of the time of publication, Dreamers remain protected from deportation and can renew their DACA status, but new applications remain on hold.

Explainer: What Is DACA?

With a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court upholding DACA, AS/COA Online looks at the immigration program, the Trump administration’s attempt to end it, and its current status.