The Biden administration is planning for more illegal aliens to be released into U.S. communities to pursue asylum cases as the Trump-era Title 42 program that helped stem the tide of illegal immigration ends on Dec. 21.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a six-pillar plan (pdf) on how it plans to cope with the challenges posed by the scheduled termination of Title 42 and the major policy shift that this represents.
The department’s plan includes accelerated processing for illegal aliens in custody on the border, more temporary detention tents, staffing surges, bolstering NGO capacity to receive people after they’ve been processed, and increased criminal prosecutions of smugglers.
The agency estimates that 9,000 to 14,000 migrants could try to enter the country illegally each day when the Title 42 policy ends.
Title 42, designed to prevent the introduction of contagious diseases in the United States, was issued by the Trump administration in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was used over 2.5 million times to block asylum claims.
A federal judge in Washington ordered Title 42 to end on Dec. 21 but Republican-led states asked an appeals court to keep it in place.
The Biden administration has also challenged some aspects of the ruling, though it doesn’t oppose letting the rule lapse next week.
With the potential for the legal back-and-forth to go down to the wire, Republicans have warned of the consequences of letting Title 42 end.
“When Title 42 ends, weekly illegal border crossings are projected to be 98,000. That’s 14,000 crossings every day. 583 crossings every hour. America is being invaded!” Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tx.) said in a post on Twitter.
A number of GOP lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden to extend the emergency order, arguing that terminating Title 42 will “result in a complete loss of operational control over the southern border, a profoundly negative impact on border communities, and significant suffering and fatalities among the migrants unlawfully entering the United States.”
The group of lawmakers said in their letter to Biden that legislative action is probably the only solution, but that could take time.
The DHS, too, called for Congressional action to fix what it described as an outdated and dysfunctional immigration system, in which “incentives are misaligned, asylum court backlogs stretch for years, and the border security challenge is exacerbated.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said Customs and Border Protection officials told him Wednesday that about 50,000 people are believed to be waiting to flood across the border once Title 42 is lifted.
Citing the constraints of a “decades-old immigration system that everyone agrees is broken,” DHS warned in the document that, with the end of Title 42, it expects a “significant increase” in the number of people seeking to cross the border without authorization, which would “substantially strain our system even further.”
With a system already strained beyond capacity amid a record surge in illegal immigration, DHS said it’s bracing for even more increases in human flows, which would “create further pressure and potential overcrowding” in various locations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Besides expecting processing delays and disruptions at some points of entry into the United States, the DHS said it’s bracing for the release of illegal aliens into U.S. communities.
“With NGOs strained, there is a potential for a higher number of single adults and families to be provisionally released from DHS custody into communities without NGO or other sponsor support, pending the outcome of their immigration court proceedings,” the agency said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled this week to El Paso, Texas, which witnessed a large influx on Sunday after becoming the busiest corridor for illegal crossings in October.
Over 1,500 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally into El Paso in the early hours of Dec. 12, according to video from the scene and local media, in what reports say could be one of the biggest single crossings ever in the region.
Footage from the border shared on social media by news outlet El Paso Matters showed a massive group of migrants trekking through the water toward the other riverbank overnight and people huddling by fires to keep warm as they awaited processing.
Sleeping on the Streets
The individuals who crossed Sunday night were part of a group of migrants who were escorted by Mexican state police from the city of Jiménez to Juárez in a caravan of 20 buses, according to El Paso Matters, which estimated the total size of the group that crossed overnight at over 1,500 people.
The aliens said they were from Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Peru, according to the outlet, which estimated that this may have been the largest single border crossing in the region in history.
More than 5,600 illegal aliens were held as of Dec. 13 in the Border Patrol Central Processing Center, according to a city of El Paso dashboard. The center has a capacity of around 3,500.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) said in a Twitter post that the processing center was filled beyond capacity and that some people were sleeping on city streets.
“Migrants sleeping on the streets of El Paso! This is what the New Ellis Island looks like: 611 migrants out on the streets because the NGOs are out of capacity; every Border Patrol agent in processing centers overcapacity with 5,000 folks. This is exactly what Democrats wanted.”
Mayorkas has acknowledged that the situation along the southern border is “difficult,” while insisting that the Biden administration wants a “safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together.”
Mayorkas said recently that Republican rhetoric claiming that the “border is open” was helping fuel the influx.
“The political cry that the border is open is music to the smugglers’ ears, because they take that political rhetoric and they market it” to desperate migrants, Mayorkas told The Dallas Morning News.
Still, when Biden took office, one of his first actions was to cancel the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy.
That rule meant that asylum-seekers were required to remain in Mexico while their claims for asylum were processed, with figures showing that the policy discouraged false asylum claims and decreased the flow of illegal immigration.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.