WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The Biden administration announced April 27 new steps it would take in an effort to reduce migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border when Title 42 expires in May.

In remarks at the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration would set up migrant processing centers in Latin America to screen those seeking entry as to whether they have a legal pathway.

The administration also will expand legal pathways for entry, while increasing deportations of those who enter the United States unlawfully.

Blinken said the centers would “improve qualified individuals’ access” to refugee resettlement, family reunification and lawful settlement in the U.S. or other countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, pictured with President Joe Biden in a March 1, 2021, file photo. Blinken and Mayorkas made issued a statement April 27, 2023, on steps the Biden administration will take in an effort to reduce migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border when Title 42 expires May 11. (OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“These centers will take a hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer, legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries,” Blinken said.

Mayorkas said that “when people have safe and orderly pathways to come to the United States, and face consequences for failing to do so, they use those pathways.”

Title 42 is a part of federal U.S. public health law granting the federal government some authority to implement emergency action to prevent the spread of contagious diseases by barring some individuals from entry.

Then-President Donald Trump implemented the policy in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the move was seen as part of his administration’s broader attempts to reduce migration. The use of Title 42 to expel migrants at the southern border was criticized by some public health experts, who argued it was politically motivated rather than evidence-based.

Since then, Title 42 has been invoked more than 2.7 million times to expel migrants, including those seeking asylum, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Title 42 is set to end May 11.

In a statement issued late April 28, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the bishops “strongly support increased refugee resettlement from Latin America and the Caribbean as a reliable pathway to lasting safety for those who have been forcibly displaced.”

He said the bishops “look forward to its close coordination with civil society and Congress to ensure the successful integration of these newcomers.” Bishop Seitz added that resources used for this “should not undermine existing access to resettlement for other refugees or impede the proper functioning of immigration processes generally.”

The bishops “are relieved that the Administration does not plan to detain vulnerable families, given the unjustifiable and immoral harms of doing so,” Bishop Seitz continued, but they also “are greatly concerned that such families, including those with young children, and others will be subjected to rushed proceedings without meaningful due process.”

The administration’s continued “reliance on expedited removal” coupled with “severe restrictions on asylum eligibility and access” is concerning, Bishop Seitz said, adding that those “most desperately in need of relief” will “bear the brunt of these measures.”

He acknowledged the “challenge of forced migration facing our country and hemisphere” is “complex” and said that achieving “the conditions necessary to sustainably reduce irregular migration” will only happen by overhauling the U.S. immigration system and making a long-term commitment to address root causes of migration and promote “integral human development throughout the Americas.”

J. Kevin Appleby, interim executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, told OSV News April 27 that the Biden administration’s announcement seems “a positive step forward.”

“Of course, as always, it depends on how something is implemented and what resources are devoted to the implementation that will decide whether it’s successful or not,” Appleby said.

“But it gives asylum- seekers an opportunity to tell their stories and have their cases adjudicated without taking a dangerous journey north.”

Appleby, a former adviser on migration policy for the U.S. bishops, said that for the last quarter century, “Congress has not had the political courage to reform the immigration system.”

“So it’s left to the executive branch to come up with these responses, when Congress should be working with the administration to pass legislation to overhaul our immigration laws,” he said.

Republicans have made immigration a key part of their criticism of the Biden administration, accusing him of lax policies. In a statement reacting to Biden’s 2024 reelection bid, former President Donald Trump, in the midst of his third bid for the White House after Biden defeated him in 2020, said, “Under Biden, the Southern Border has been abolished — and millions of illegal aliens have been released into our communities.”

A fact sheet from the State Department about the new actions said, “The lifting of the Title 42 order does not mean the border is open.”

The fact sheet said that any individuals who unlawfully cross the U.S. southern border after Title 42 is lifted will be processed for expedited removal, barred from reentry for at least five years if they are ordered removed and would be ineligible for asylum “absent an applicable exception.”

“To avoid these consequences, individuals are encouraged to use the many lawful pathways the United States has expanded over the past two years,” the fact sheet said.

The U.S. bishops and other Catholic immigration advocates have criticized Title 42 as well as the Biden administration’s continued use of the Trump-era policy.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán believe strengthening Christian values can make Europe a better place, but they have key differences when describing those values and how they should be promoted.

Pope Francis will visit Hungary’s capital, Budapest, April 28-30. It will be his 41st foreign trip since becoming pope in 2013.

Pope Francis greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest, Hungary, in this file photo from Sept. 12, 2021. Pope Francis will return to Hungary April 28-30. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The top issues on the pope’s agenda are likely to be the ongoing war in Ukraine and immigration — pressing issues that will illustrate some common ground and substantial chasms.

Since Russia’s war on Ukraine began in February 2022, Hungary has seen some 2.5 million Ukrainians cross its borders, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. While the agency reports only about 35,000 of them have requested temporary protection status to remain in Hungary, the Hungarian government and Catholic and other private humanitarian agencies mobilized quickly to assist both those seeking refuge in the country and those simply passing through. A year later, that assistance continues.

Pope Francis will thank Hungary and its people for welcoming their next-door neighbors in need. And he will meet refugees April 29; Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said he assumed many of them would be Ukrainians.

But the pope is likely to say something like what Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told Hungarian officials a year ago: A welcoming attitude should be a permanent part of Hungarian government policy and should be extended to other people seeking refuge, not just Ukrainians.

Since 2015 Orbán has consistently maintained a “no migrants” policy, arguing that “ethnic homogeneity” was an important value for his country.

Pope Francis, while recognizing a nation’s right to control its borders and regulate migration, also insists that people fleeing danger and those seeking a decent life for themselves and their families have a right to move.

Father Csaba Torok, who is responsible for media relations for the Hungarian bishops’ conference, told reporters April 18 that when Pope Francis made a seven-hour visit to Hungary in September 2021 to close the International Eucharistic Congress, Orbán gave him a rather pointed gift: a copy of a letter written by King Bela IV to Pope Innocent IV in 1250 asking for help against Mongol warriors.

“It was a sign,” Father Torok said. “Victor Orbán portrays himself as a defender of Christianity and is intentionally seeking a connection with the pope.”

“Orbán says things that support the church, but he does things that are not always in harmony with church teaching,” the priest said.

Officially, the bishops’ conference and individual bishops have not taken strong public stances against Orbán’s anti-migrant policy, he said. “The Catholic Church in Hungary is not independent in terms of funding. Schools, institutes, hospitals, even dioceses are financed by the state. Whenever political tensions arise, whether internal or external, people prefer not to say anything because there is a risk of jeopardizing the inflow of funds. Should a government become an enemy of the church, it could drive the church to bankruptcy within a few months.”

On the question of the war in Ukraine, Orbán claims he and the pope are on the same page.

In his state of the nation speech in February, the prime minister defended his opposition to sanctions against Russia and to sending weapons or military supplies to Ukraine. His government’s opposition is consistently voiced in meetings of both NATO and the European Union.

The decision to send tanks to Ukraine, Orbán said in the February speech, moved Germany “from the peace camp into the war camp. That left two of us: Hungary and the Vatican. We cannot complain about the company, but we need to address some serious consequences.”

“In essence,” Father Torok said, “what Orbán is saying is: ‘We are the Vatican’s ally and the only country in Europe that protects Christianity; we are doing our utmost for peace in our foreign policy following in the footsteps of the pope.'”

Pope Francis recognizes Ukraine’s right to defend itself, but he also has insisted dialogue is the only way to stop the war. As he told an Italian newspaper in November: Lasting peace cannot be achieved by sending more weapons “because they don’t defeat hatred and the thirst for domination, which will reemerge.”

Orbán has described his policy regarding the war as “strategic calm,” providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, but not interrupting Hungary’s strong economic ties with Russia.

Hungary for decades has been trying to promote détente between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, Father Torok said. Before St. John Paul II visited the country in 1996 attempts were made to plan a meeting there between the pope and then-Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow. The meeting did not take place.

“The Hungarian Catholic Church has consistently tried to serve as a bridge connecting the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church,” he said. But given the situation with the war, it seems there is “nothing on the table” now.

Still, Bruni, the Vatican press office director, told reporters April 21 that Orthodox delegations could attend some of the papal events in April.

Those delegations likely would include Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who was head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church until, without explanation, he was made administrator of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Budapest and Hungary last June.

Whether or not the pope has direct contact with Russian Orthodox officials in Hungary, what he says about the war will make its way to Moscow.