By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
The Biden administration, already facing an increase in border crossings, is setting plans in motion to manage an anticipated influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border when a Covid-era border restriction ends next week, sources tell CNN.
On May 11, when the coronavirus public health emergency ends, the Title 42 authority, which has been the primary border enforcement tool since March 2020, will expire, meaning border officials will no longer be able to quickly expel certain migrants.
The handling of the US southern border has dogged Joe Biden over the course of his presidency, starting with an influx of unaccompanied migrant children just weeks into his administration and followed by images of thousands of primarily Haitian migrants gathered under a bridge along the Texas-Mexico border.
The issue has opened Biden up to criticism from Republicans who have hammered the administration and are already wielding the issue to counter the president in the upcoming election. It’s also stoked tensions with New York City Mayor Eric Adams who has urged the administration to do more to stem the flow of migration amid an increase of arrivals to his city.
When Title 42 lifts, US immigration authorities will return to decades-old protocols at a time of unprecedented mass migration in the Western hemisphere, raising concerns within the Biden administration about a surge in the immediate aftermath of authority ending.
Officials have already seen an uptick in migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in anticipation of the expiration of Title 42. Daily encounters have steadily climbed in recent days, now hovering around 7,500 and expected to rise in the coming weeks, according to a Homeland Security official.
As of Tuesday morning, there were more than 22,000 migrants in US Customs and Border Protection custody, marking an increase from over the weekend when border facilities were already under strain, according to the Homeland Security official who stressed the numbers fluctuate.
Officials have been keenly aware that Title 42, which is based on public health grounds, would eventually lift and have been preparing for its expiration.
The Department of Homeland Security previously released a six-pillar plan that outlined the department’s operations post-Title 42, including setting up additional facilities along the border to process migrants, bolstering transportation and leaning on a fast-track deportation process known as “expedited removal.” Administration officials are still relying on that plan.
“We are surging resources to our border, modernizing processes, attacking the smuggling organizations with unprecedented law enforcement focus, strengthening our immigration enforcement tool of expedited removal, working to increase information sharing and resources — having distributed over $130 million this fiscal year with 290 more to be awarded in the coming weeks — for local communities and their non-profit organizations,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news conference last week.
Even so, Mayorkas conceded the next few weeks would be “challenging.”
“We know smugglers will seek to take advantage of the end of Title 42 and that the first few weeks will be challenging, but I have full confidence in the dedicated men and women of DHS,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security also notified Congress last week of its intent to reprogram funds within the department’s budget to support needs to secure the border.
The administration is also leaning on Mexico to stem the flow of migration. Late Tuesday, the White House announced that Mexico has agreed to take back migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela when Title 42 lifts, marking the first time the US will deport non-Mexicans back across the border. The agreement followed a meeting between Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood Randall and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday.
Migrants from those countries are eligible for humanitarian parole.
Other initiatives announced with Mexico Tuesday include commitments to increase joint actions targeting human smugglers and traffickers targeting migrants, enhance efforts to address the root causes of migration, and welcome as many as 100,000 individuals from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador under a family reunification parole process.
The Defense Department, meanwhile, will also be providing assistance as they have in previous surges.
The Biden administration is making plans to send an additional 1,500 active-duty troops to the US-Mexico border in anticipation of an influx of migrants when the Title 42 public health authority expires next week, sources familiar with the planning told CNN.
The US military has long provided support to DHS on the border and a surge of personnel to the area is not unprecedented. Currently, there are approximately 2,500 national guard troops on Title X orders.
“At the request of DHS, DOD will provide a temporary increase of an additional 1,500 military personnel, for 90 days, to supplement CBP efforts at the border,” a US official said in a statement. “These 1,500 military personnel will fill critical capability gaps, such as ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry, and warehouse support, until CBP can address these needs through contracted support. They will not be doing any law enforcement work.”
Hundreds of miles away from the border, cities are also bracing for more migrant arrivals, some of which have been transported by bus as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s affront against Biden’s border policies.
Adams accused Abbott on Monday of playing “politics with people’s lives,” as he resumes busing asylum seekers out of his state.
And on Sunday, CNN reported that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent a letter to Abbott urging him to stop “the inhumane and dangerous action” of bussing migrants to her city. Washington DC, which received migrants transported by Abbott’s buses, is also bracing for more arrivals and preparing a shelter, according to a source familiar.
Adam’s office said the city is in regular communication with the mayors of other cities and their staff to share information and discuss strategy and response.
Shifting migration patterns in the Western hemisphere have posed an immense challenge for the Biden administration amid an increase of people from across the hemisphere fleeing deteriorating conditions in their home countries that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden administration announced last week that it will set up regional processing centers in Latin America for migrants to apply to come to the United States and has increasingly relied on parole to admit eligible migrants to the United States and drive down border crossings.
The brick-and-mortar centers, which are still being set up, will be located in Colombia and Guatemala — two countries migrants often pass through on their way to the US-Mexico border, senior administration officials told reporters. Discussions are underway to expand the centers to other countries.
The centers also underscore the administration’s approach of setting up additional ways for people to legally migrate to the US, while making clear that consequences will be levied against those who don’t take advantage of those pathways.
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