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Migrants stand next to the border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration kept a Trump-era policy known as "Title 42" as a tool to quickly turn back adults and families who illegally cross the southern border— but new Department of Homeland Security data leaked to Axios shows in recent days it's hardly been used for families.

Driving the news: The data shows an average of just 13% of nearly 13,000 family members attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border were returned to Mexico between March 14 and March 21 using the public health order, which essentially says the U.S. can close the border to nonessential travel because of the coronavirus.

  • It's a sign of how the administration is struggling to keep up with a migration surge, and has been recently hamstrung by Mexico's inability to take in more families the U.S. otherwise would expel.
  • That doesn't mean the other 87% percent will remain in the U.S. indefinitely, but they will be allowed into the U.S. to go through immigration proceedings.
  • It's too soon to say how many will be ultimately granted asylum or deported — and when. Proceedings can take years.

What they're saying: Given fluctuating migration flows, "one week of statistics doesn’t reflect the full picture," a DHS spokesperson told Axios. "Our policy remains that families are expelled, and in situations where expulsion is not possible due to Mexico’s inability to receive the families, they are placed into removal proceedings.”

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the process of deporting those families sometimes "takes a minute to ensure there is proper transportation and steps in place to do that."

Why it matters: Psaki said there are only "narrow, narrow circumstances in which families can't be expelled."

  • But administration officials also say Mexico doesn't always have capacity to take in families sent there under Title 42 — especially when families include young children.
  • A DHS official told Axios the U.S. is "working with our partners in Mexico to increase their capacity."
  • Top Biden border officials met with Mexican officials on Monday to discuss solutions to the surge at the border.

When Title 42 is not invoked, these migrants are tested for the coronavirus and quarantined if needed before being placed in removal proceedings, according to the DHS official and Psaki.

  • Some are transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which recently signed a contract to provide hotel rooms for migrant families.
  • Some are released at bus stops or local nongovernmental organizations.
  • Border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector are releasing some migrants without a court date.

The big picture: The Biden administration has taken fire from both the right and the left over its use of Title 42.

  • Progressives have decried the use of the order to expel families and adults, while conservatives have blamed the rising number of unaccompanied minors on the administration's choice not to use the order to return them to Mexico.

Go deeper

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
45 mins ago - Economy & Business

Tipping has soared during the pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

From restaurants to ride-sharing, Americans are tipping a lot more than they did before the pandemic.

Why it matters: The past two years have upended the way we express appreciation to the people who provide us food and services.

Updated 10 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker