MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The daily crossing of illegal immigrants along the southern border has become a topic of debate among national lawmakers but what ultimately happens with Title 42 will likely impact West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and drug enforcement.
That Trump-era measure keeps asylum-seekers on the Mexican side of the border while waiting for court appearances due to the pandemic. The federal Centers for Disease Control wants to lift the measure beginning May 23. Louisiana U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays issued a temporary restraining order which will remain in effect until he rules on a preliminary injunction sought by several states, including West Virginia.
Summerhays heard two hours of arguments on the case Friday and said he would rule by May 23.
Berkeley County Sheriff Nathan Harmon said lifting Title 42 is more than just people coming through the border.
“Because that is a layer to help minimize those crossings,” Harmon said during a recent appearance on WEPM’s Panhandle Live. “When you stop the border wall construction and you begin to peal away the onion that we’ve had in terms of protections–you’re saying that it’s okay for drugs to coming into the United States.”
Harmon said sheriffs across the nation want Title 42 to remain.
“Collectively, nationally and statewide, as far as the Sheriff’s Association (West Virginia Sheriff’s Association) signed a letter specifically in support of maintaining Title 42,” Harmon said.
He said fentanyl and other dangerous drugs are being imported into the country at record numbers.
“Along with the drugs come the crimes and that’s why I’m such a big advocate of drug interdiction,” Harmon said. “On this side of the fence, I see the results of that proactive effort and you have to be ahead of it and you have to do your research.”
Harmon said that includes training and investigating in deputies and giving them the equipment they need to do their jobs well.
Interstate 81 is a corridor for the illegal drugs and immigrants that initially come through at the southern border, Harmon said. During a recent routine patrol, one deputy uncovered four separate incidents involving human trafficking, Harmon said.
“It was four separate human smuggling investigations,” Harmon said. “There was over $17,000 hidden inside this van for someone completing a drop-off of four illegal immigrants. The drop-off was in another state but we intercepted it on 81.”
He said there’s a lot of similar illegal activity that goes undetected.
“We’re not sniffing the surface of that,” Harmon said.
According to the Texas Tribune, Homeland Security predicts up to 18,000 daily encounters with migrants – more than double the current average – when Title 42 ends. Anticipating such an increase, the agency has released a plan that includes vaccinating migrants in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, adding 600 CBP agents across the southwest border, and increasing the capacity of federal holding centers from 12,000 to 18,000.