WASHINGTON (TND) — The Biden administration is preparing for an influx of migrants at the southern border when a Trump-era immigration policy comes to an end next month.
Title 42, a public health rule that allowed nearly all migrants to be turned away without hearing an asylum case, will come to an end on May 23. U.S. officials and immigration experts are expecting thousands of additional migrants to come to the U.S.-Mexico border, further stressing an immigration court system that is already dealing with a backlog of more than 1.7 million asylum cases.
The White House and Department of Homeland Security said the federal government is prepared to handle a surge of asylum-seekers.
“We have put in place a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border,” Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said when the end of Title 42 was announced.
Mayorkas said DHS was increasing its capacity to process people and will provide additional resources as necessary to handle a surge of people.
Ernesto Castaneda, associate professor at American University and director of the Immigration Lab, was skeptical the government will be prepared due to a lack of permanent funding in staffing to get asylum claims processed quickly.
To combat a backed-up court system, DHS and the Justice Department announced immigration officers will be allowed to make determinations on asylum claims. The new rule will shorten the time for a ruling from several years to several months, officials said.
Castaneda said the Biden administration needs to invest serious resources to process the cases, and it will take time to see the policy take effect while DHS finds and trains officers.
“So, I think that's part of the reason they're delaying it until May. That's part of the reason that we're delaying it before, to lay the groundwork for how this could work,” he said. “But still, once it comes to happen, there's going to be hiccups at the beginning. But that doesn't mean that there's a reason to keep Title 42 on indefinitely.”
Experts and the government are planning for a surge in encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border around the May 23 deadline, but Castaneda said those increases are likely going to be short-lived and won’t become a crisis.
“The influx is going to happen because there was a dam — the border was closed to a lot of people that could have otherwise legally applied for asylum and now they're gonna come,” Castaneda said. “So, it's not that there's going to be the floodgates and more people are going to come, but people that were not allowed to apply, they're going to finally be able to apply so this is going to result in an increase of encounters of the border. And this is not going to go on forever.
“It's just that a temporary thing that it's going to be a long wait for people, large number of applicants, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be exponential and be a crisis that is gonna last years.”
While federal agencies and the White House can take steps to address the immigration system, it may not be enough to compensate for a lack of legislation from Congress.
“(The White House) can do some things, but they cannot do magic, so they won't be able to have enough resources, personnel and staff to process the asylum cases,” Castaneda said.
With an evenly divided Senate and November elections looming, the odds of Biden and congressional Democrats coming to an agreement with Republicans on comprehensive reform are slim.
Democratic pollster, political strategist, and “America: Unite or Die” author Doug Schoen said the president should tighten border security and consider restarting construction of the border wall in exchange for a deal on immigration that includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is frequently speaking with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address immigration.
"Any Republican who wants to work with us on immigration reform, you're invited; let's have a conversation. We have not seen an expression of that interest across the board," she said. "But I think it's clear what we're seeing from Republicans is an effort to politicize this and not fix what we all recognize is an outdated and broken system."
President Joe Biden was immediately met with resistance to ending the pandemic-era policy by Republicans and members of his own party. A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill that would prevent Biden from lifting the restrictions without giving Congress a detailed plan to address a surge in migrants.
Schoen said Biden should keep a similar policy in place with humanitarian exceptions. Otherwise, Democrats’ slim majorities could be endangered by a perception of “open borders.”
“Politics makes a huge difference on immigration, especially with the midterms coming up in November, the perception of open borders could be of great problems to the Democrats nationally, and particularly in marginal Senate races in Arizona and Nevada,” Schoen said.
The end of Title 42 is also creating problems passing new COVID funds the White House says are vital to keeping the pandemic in check. A bipartisan group of senators had come to an agreement on a $10 billion package, but it has been stalled over Republican demands to include an amendment preventing Biden from lifting the policy.
The top two Republican leaders in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Thune of South Dakota, cast doubt on the bill getting passed without an amendment preserving immigration restrictions.
"I don't think there are probably 10 Republican votes at the moment for a process that doesn't include" a vote on language keeping immigration restrictions, Thune said.