The US homeland security chief acknowledged on Sunday that the nation faces an “extraordinary strain” as it braces for surges of immigrants crossing the Mexico border once pandemic-related entry curbs are dropped.
Interviewed on ABC, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also repeated a blunt “Do not come” message to any would-be migrants pondering illegal border crossings.
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President Joe Biden’s plan to end Title 42 on May 23 — the measure allowed for quick expulsion of migrants, purportedly on health grounds, during the COVID-19 crisis — has sparked cross-party anger.
Republicans relentlessly have exhorted that US borders are out of control, and Democratic lawmakers in swing states say such political messaging has left them highly vulnerable in November’s midterm elections.
Mayorkas conceded the breadth of the problem on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There is unanimity that the system is broken,” he said, saying legislation is urgently needed to provide a long-term fix.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency says it has encountered 7,800 undocumented migrants daily along the southwest border in recent weeks — almost five times the average of 1,600 recorded from 2014-2019, before the coronavirus outbreak.
Homeland security officials said in March that number could hit 18,000 a day once Title 42 is lifted.
Mayorkas said his department was bracing for the surge.
“There is no question that if in fact we reach that number, that is going to be an extraordinary strain on our system,” Mayorkas told CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show. “But we are preparing for it.”
Immigration has been one of the thorniest issues facing Washington for decades, with reform efforts proving elusive.
Tempers surrounding the issue sharpened when former president Donald Trump depicted undocumented migrants as criminals and rapists, and when his administration separated some parents from children crossing the border.
Title 42 was installed under Trump, and critics said he was invoking public health concerns as an easy way to limit migration.
But Biden too has leaned on it to turn away migrants, whose numbers have swelled near border crossings in anticipation of the measure’s end.
Border arrests hit an all-time high in 2021, and appear certain to exceed that pace this year.
Anticipating a major influx, the administration has expanded border facilities and increased its capacity to process migrants.
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