Atlanta receives $7M to deal with migrant surge as Title 42 ends

Growing number of border crossings amid a key policy change could lead to the arrival of vulnerable migrants in Georgia. “We really don’t know what to expect. And that’s uncomfortable.”

As changes to border policy leave cities across the country bracing for a potential increase in migrant arrivals, Atlanta will receive millions of dollars in federal funding to help manage an eventual surge.

Last week, FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program announced it had allocated over $300 million to local communities nationwide to help meet the humanitarian needs of people arriving to the U.S. from the southern border, with the city of Atlanta slated to receive nearly $6.9 million. The announcement came just days before the scheduled end on Thursday of pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42.

“Atlanta is a welcoming city and we will work with local stakeholders to help these families find a path forward,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office said in a statement. The spokesman explained that the city will distribute the FEMA funds to “local organizations who specialize in related wraparound services.” Save for a nonprofit in Miami, Atlanta is the only recipient of FEMA aid in the Southeast, as the bulk of the money is going to communities in Texas, Arizona and California.

Since being put in place in March 2020, Title 42 has allowed for the swift expulsion of most migrants at the border, bypassing screens for asylum. When the policy expires on Tuesday, the administration of President Joe Biden will replace it with a new set of crackdowns on illegal crossings.

By some measures, getting into the country and applying for asylum will become even more difficult. Starting Thursday, migrants hoping for a chance at asylum will have to first secure an appointment online or prove that they have sought protection in a country they passed through on their way to the southern border. Not following this process will incur hefty sanctions. Whereas migrants expelled under Title 42 did not face immigration or criminal penalties – encouraging many to try to cross several times – those who run afoul of the new Biden rules will be not only immediately deported but also face a five-year ban from the U.S.

Despite the looming new restrictions, officials worry that confusion over the policy changes could lead to a surge in attempted crossings. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has already registered an uptick in the number of unauthorized border arrivals, with authorities averaging more than 8,700 daily migrant apprehensions this past week. According to CBS News, that’s an increase from a March average of 5,200. Homeland security officials predict 10,000 border apprehensions per day starting on Friday.

“I mean, we really don’t know what to expect [after Title 42 expires]. And that’s uncomfortable,” said Santiago Marquez, CEO of the Latin American Association in Atlanta . “We’re trying to ramp up to make sure that we are as ready as we can be.”

Last summer, Latin American Association staff was on the frontlines of a local humanitarian response when dozens of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants – who were then exempt from Title 42 – began arriving to the city via the southern border without a place to stay. That’s a scenario advocates worry could be repeated if a sustained surge at the border materializes after Thursday.

Marquez said that, last year, the LAA was able to put up migrants in area hotels using unrestricted funding it had at its disposal. That funding is not there this year.

Klinsman Torres, 31, stands outside of the hotel he is temporarily living in while seeking asylum in the U.S. The Venezuelan national is receiving assistance from the Latin American Association in Atlanta. Friday, September 9, 2022. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

“The sheltering piece is going to be the biggest bottleneck,” said Maggie Burgess, program coordinator at Team Libertad, an Atlanta group that assists migrants released from immigration detention. “We are definitely concerned about asylum seekers who are coming from the border and our infrastructure and capacity to shelter them, which at this point is zero … Here in Atlanta, we don’t have the integration services that we need.”

Burgess noted that Team Libertad’s partner organizations in border communities “are already experiencing a doubling and tripling and quadrupling in the number of people that they’re serving, even though Title 42 hasn’t ended yet.”

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that the Biden administration will soon move to release some apprehended migrants into the U.S., to relieve pressure from overcrowded border processing centers.

Given a relative lack of services in Atlanta, Burgess noted that migrants who may make their way here might choose to relocate to other cities.

“It’s going to depend on if New York finds more beds for shelter. It’s going to depend on if Chicago and some of our other metro areas start to open shelters in places that are more amenable to immigrant families.”

Marquez said the LAA’s doors will always be open to vulnerable migrants, who would at the very least be able to receive food from the organization.

“We don’t turn people away,” he said. “I would love to see a more coordinated effort from [all levels] of government understanding that we have potentially another crisis coming.”

Biden said Tuesday that his administration was working towards an orderly transition away from Title 42. “But it remains to be seen,” he told reporters. “It’s going to be chaotic for a while.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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