Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller called new border restrictions, which the Biden Administration announced just prior to his border visit Sunday, a “slap in the face,” adding to the chorus of criticism the president has received in the wake of his decision.

The expansion of Title 42, the emergency health order the federal government has used for over two years to quickly turn away migrants from the nation’s southern border, now includes Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian immigrants.

Late last year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded the rules to include Venezuelan migrants, who had been crossing the Texas-Mexico border in record numbers

Migrants from those countries have made up the bulk of those passing through San Antonio. Previously, the rule applied to migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Before the administration announced its new policy, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Title 42 could remain in place for at least two more months.

The San Antonio Report sought reaction from García-Siller as Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, took over operations from the city of the migrant resource center, now known as Centro de Bienvenida, in October.

Three months ago, García-Siller visited the Texas and Mexico border in Nuevo Laredo with other archbishops.

“There were about 2,000 migrants. The area looked like we were in a war zone. Houses, they were burned. Many children … over 200 women pregnant. The cartels, they own all those properties and they were doing with the refugees whatever they wanted,” García-Siller said. “In the 12 years that I have been in Texas and visited the border on the other side, that was the worst I have seen.”

What García-Siller criticized most was the list of requirements migrants must meet to claim asylum.

“Seems like the list is getting longer. It’s longer and longer, difficult. For some of them, how are they going to request asylum from their own country if there is no communication, there is no electricity, they don’t have the money, they are blocked in communication. It’s to make it impossible,” he said.

He acknowledged that the new rules were a response to the increase in migrants coming into Texas, “but what kind of response?” he asked. “Comprehensive immigration reform is urgent.”

García-Siller is hardly alone in his criticism. Republicans and Democrats alike slammed the move, as did immigration advocates.

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio) did not respond to a request for comment, but he called Biden’s tour of the southwest border a “photo op” on social media.

On Tuesday, he tweeted that he introduced his own legislation, the “Security First Act.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) condemned the expanded asylum restrictions.

“I am deeply disappointed to see the Biden administration extending failed Trump-era immigration policies that exacerbate chaos and irregular migration at the Southern border,” he wrote. 

Castro said that while he appreciated the administration’s intent to create a pathway for legal entry, the transit ban and parole requirements are “willfully dismissive” of the realities asylum seekers face. He added that the new rules will “deprive countless families of the legal right to seek refuge in the United States.”

Castro suggested the Biden administration should work with Congress to develop smart immigration policy that meets the nation’s economic needs, upholds fundamental values, and addresses the root causes of migration, “Instead of making concessions to the same reactionaries who have spent decades opposing immigration reform,” he said.

“Democrats just passed nearly $2 billion in federal funding to strengthen our immigration system, alleviating the strain on border communities and transit points like San Antonio. We should build from that progress instead of moving backward,” Castro said.

RAICES, a nonprofit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees, called the expansion of Title 42 “insensitive” to the realities asylum seekers face.

RAICES said in a statement the new measures provide a “false promise” of access to humanitarian relief: “Under the myriad life or death circumstances that drive individuals and families to request asylum, it is preposterous to expect that they can book a flight and download a mobile app to make an advanced reservation for protection,” wrote the nonprofit.

Only 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua who can afford a plane ticket, have access to a smart phone with internet and have a host family willing to financially support them in the U.S. will be allowed to enter the country per month, according to the new rules.

Also, any person escaping persecution and seeking asylum in the U.S. must apply through an app called CBPOne before leaving their country. If the application is approved, the app allows the migrant to schedule an appointment to present at a port of entry. 

The new rules also state that those who follow the process legally will receive authorization to work in the U.S. legally for two years. Many migrants who have come through and stayed in San Antonio have said they want the ability to work.

The goal of the law is to relieve pressure on border cities, but while the number of Venezuelans arriving at the San Antonio migrant resource center dropped precipitously after DHS rules targeting that population took effect, Cubans and Nicaraguans appeared to take their place.

The center saw no decrease in the total number of migrants it served. In fact, overall numbers continue to increase.

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.