ALEXANDRIA, La. (KLFY) — Not many people may know about it, but a main hub in the fight against illegal immigration is right here in Louisiana.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) facility at the Alexandria International Airport is a 72-hour holding center for migrants to get to and from their home country.
And with the recent expiration of Title 42, which was put in place in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic by the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention, it may become even more important.
The facility holds hundreds of migrants waiting for their departure from the United States. Accommodations for the migrants include 24/7 health care, religious services, games and television to keep everyone in the facility occupied.
Today, several migrants left all that and were flown back to their own countries from the facility.
The Regional ICE Attaché for Central America Lupita Serna distinguished between legitimate asylum seekers and those wishing to skirt the law to enter the United States.
“The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we are a nation of laws,”Serna said. “We are devoted to providing humanitarian relief for those who qualify. We are committed to enforcing our laws to hold accountable those who do not establish a legal basis to remain.”
Workers at the Alexandria facility say they get immigrants going to and from all over Central and South America.
Title 42 is the name of an emergency health authority. It was a holdover from President Donald Trump’s administration and began in March 2020. The authority allowed U.S. officials to turn away migrants who came to the U.S.-Mexico border on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Before that, migrants could cross illegally, ask for asylum and be allowed into the U.S. They were then screened and often released to wait out their immigration cases.
Under Title 42, migrants were returned over the border and denied the right to seek asylum. U.S. officials turned away migrants more than 2.8 million times. Families and children traveling alone were exempt.
But there were no real consequences when someone illegally crossed the border. So migrants were able to try again and again to cross, on the off chance they would get into the U.S.
President Joe Biden initially kept Title 42 in place after he took office, then tried to end its use in 2022. Republicans sued, arguing the restrictions were necessary for border security. Courts had kept the rules in place. But the Biden administration announced in January that it was ending national COVID-19 emergencies, and so the border restrictions have now gone away.
The agencies want to remind migrants they will be sent back if they are in the country illegally.
“Title 42 is enforced. You will be returned if you enter the United States illegally,” Serna said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.