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Why predicted border chaos after Title 42's end didn't pan out


It's been nearly two weeks since the end of Title 42. Those pandemic border restrictions had been used to quickly expel migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the predictions from some lawmakers about what would happen next were dire.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's going to be chaotic for a while.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: All hell is going to break loose along the border.

STEPHEN MILLER: Ten thousand apprehensions a day - these are apocalyptic levels.

KYRSTEN SINEMA: It will be a humanitarian crisis 'cause we are not prepared.

SUMMERS: That was President Joe Biden, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Stephen Miller, a White House adviser to former President Donald Trump, and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a former Democrat turned independent. But those predictions of chaos did not pan out. Instead, apprehensions at the border are down sharply. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, and he joins us in studio now. Hey.


SUMMERS: So Joel, what happened?

ROSE: The honest answer is we don't know exactly. I can tell you that there was a big influx, but it happened in the days before Title 42 expired - more than 10,000 apprehensions a day, at one point, and that was a record-setting pace. But then the number of migrants crossing the border dropped off sharply to the lowest levels we've seen in months. There were still a lot of people in Border Patrol custody facilities that were way above their official capacity, but it was not the, quote-unquote, "apocalypse" some people were expecting.

SUMMERS: OK. You cover these issues closely. What do you make of that?

ROSE: Migrants, I think, knew that the policy was going to change, and many decided that they wanted to cross the border ahead of that. And that fits with what we heard from people at the border in El Paso and in Ciudad Juarez, and experts I've talked to think we are now in a kind of wait-and-see phase, which has happened before after big policy shifts. Migrants are smart. They're looking at social media. They're communicating with friends and family in the U.S. They're weighing what they hear, both from smugglers and from government officials, and they're trying to figure out what all this is going to mean for them.

SUMMERS: OK, so why did so many people across the ideological spectrum get this so wrong?

ROSE: Partly, I think this came from overstating the effectiveness and the importance of Title 42. There was no lasting legal consequence for being expelled under Title 42, so migrants would cross repeatedly to try to apply for asylum, and that drove up the numbers. In reality, immigration authorities were already moving away from Title 42, but you would have never known that from listening to the political discourse. I talked about this with Muzaffar Chishti from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

MUZZAFAR CHISHTI: By its end, it had just become a talking point. The Republicans were busy saying the Title 42 that Trump put in place is the answer to all our problems, and Democrats were seeing this as a poster to child cruelty (ph), so not even recognizing that it had become less and less important.

ROSE: So a lot of the fearmongering around the end of Title 42 was about politics, and I don't think that's going to end with Title 42. We're already hearing a lot about the quote-unquote "crisis" at the border from Republican candidates announcing their intention to run for president - also from GOP governors in Texas and Florida who have made a big show of sending more law enforcement resources to the border. I think all of that is likely to continue, whether the border-crossing numbers, you know, rebound or not.

SUMMERS: So Joel, what else are you watching going forward?

ROSE: I think Mexico plays a crucial role in all of this. Will the Mexican government crack down on migration and turn more people away, or will we see the same kind of bottleneck in Mexican border cities in the north that we did a few months ago? Also litigation in the U.S. - the Biden administration's policies are being challenged in court from both sides of the political spectrum. There's a group of states led by Texas challenging new legal pathways the administration has put in place, and immigrant advocates are challenging new limits on asylum at the border. Both of those cases are going to be moving through the courts in June and July, and, you know, it would not be surprising if one or both of those policies are ultimately blocked.

SUMMERS: NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.