NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Across the nation, politicians are discussing impacts of the end of a pandemic-era immigration policy. But how will the looming end of Title 42 impact New Mexico?

What is Title 42?

Title 42 is a federal immigration policy that allowed border officials to turn some migrants away. The program began under former President Donald Trump and was officially considered part of the measures used to keep COVID-19 from spreading as would-be immigrants tried to seek asylum in the U.S.

Now that the national COVID-19 emergency is officially over, the end of Title 42 is looming. But exactly how the program’s end, on May 11, will impact New Mexico is – for now – a matter of speculation.

Potential impacts, conflicting predictions

Nationally, border officials say they’re expecting an increase in migrants at the southern border with the end of Title 42. Some officials in New Mexico have similar expectations.

“As far as the city municipal government is aware, there have been occasional small surges in the number of asylum seekers passing through Albuquerque,” Meryl Chee, the spokesperson for Albuquerque’s Office of Equity & Inclusion, told KRQE News 13. That city office and local partners have helped migrants and people seeking asylum in the past.

“The numbers have been low and manageable by partner volunteers, but are expected to rise because of our close proximity to the El Paso port of entry and because we are a transportation hub via air and bus,” Chee said.

But further south, Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima says he thinks the end of Title 42 will mean fewer people entering into New Mexico. His thinking is that without Title 42, federal officials will fall back to using Title 8, an expulsion program Miyagishima says is more “stringent.”

“In my opinion, and from what I’ve been able to confirm, Title 8 is actually a lot more stringent than Title 42 for those who are coming into the United States unlawfully,” Miyagishima says. Under Title 42, migrants could “keep coming back in three or four times” after being removed, Miyagishima explains. But under Title 8, “that probably won’t be the case,” he says.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has put it this way: “the lifting of the Title 42 order does not mean the border is open.” In a press release the agency explains that once officials revert to using Title 8, there will be “steep consequences for unlawful entry, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to enter unlawfully.” Over time, that means there could be fewer people trying to enter the U.S.

Miyagishima says he has spoken with border officials about messaging to migrants. He says border officials told him that they are trying to communicate with migrants and would-be asylum seekers to let them know the implications of the policy change.

Another factor is the increased presence of active duty military at the border. Already, more than 500 troops have arrived and hundreds more will be stationed to monitor border crossings.

Local response to migrants and asylum seekers

Regardless of the impacts of the end of Title 42, New Mexico communities will continue to play a role in helping some immigrants find a new life in the U.S.

“This is something here that the city, our non-governmental organizations, have dealt with for years,” Miyagishima says. “We’ve always had people who are seeking asylum from various countries.”

Even as far north as Albuquerque, communities play a role in helping asylum seekers.

“Since 2019, the City of Albuquerque municipal government has been supporting the efforts of faith-based groups and non-profit organizations who work with asylum-seekers year round, providing emergency food and shelter when needed,” Chee from Albuquerque’s Office of Equity & Inclusion says. “In general, volunteers have been receiving small groups of asylum seekers and helping them continue on their legal migration to other places in the United States where they are required to report to immigration judges, of which there are none in New Mexico.”

For many who come to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment is not their final destination. “We are expecting passengers from shelters in the El Paso region to arrive at the Sunport with pre-purchased plane tickets in-hand for same-day onward travel,” Chee says. “We will assist to the best of our ability any passengers who are stranded in Albuquerque by providing them with overnight shelter and food, through the non-profit networks, which is reimbursed by FEMA.”