EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Biden administration officials say they’re shoring up law-enforcement, setting money aside for partner nonprofits and speeding up the processing of migrants in anticipation of the May 23 rollback of the Title 42 public health order.
They’re also equipping buses with technology to process newly encountered migrants as they’re heading to or from U.S. Border Patrol stations and finding ways to keep processing centers from becoming overcrowded with a projected influx of up to 18,000 new migrants once Title 42 is lifted.
“Everything possible is being done to enable officers and agents to spend less time processing and more time on the field,” Maryann Tierney, senior coordinating official for the Southwest Border Coordination Center told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.
But the officials could not reassure committee members that the administration is ready to handle an anticipated new surge at the border.
“I would not say we are not prepared. What I would say is we are preparing based on projections, based on requirements identified by experts,” Tierney said. “We are doing everything we can to get ready; we will certainly be more ready by May 23 than we are now.”
Most of the criticism came from Republicans on the committee, but some Democrats also showed concern.
“If you’re not prepared, what is it going to take to get prepared?” said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia. “Because my constituents lack confidence that sufficient preparation is ongoing, and that the administration is prepared.”
Officials like Acting Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Blas Nuñez-Neto endured accusations that the administration’s response to an uptick in migrant arrivals will be to release into the U.S. as many of them as possible.
“What you are proposing looks like ways to turn this mass immigration into mass amnesty,” said U.S. Sen Josh Hawley, R-Missouri.
Nuñez-Neto noted the administration plans to hold neighboring countries accountable for enforcing their own immigration laws and “not just letting people pass through on their way north,” and said there would be consequences for migrants ineligible for asylum who come across the border without authorization. He hinted those most likely will be single adults from Mexico and elsewhere. They could face charges of illegal entry or illegal re-entry, he said.
Committee Chair Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, likes the proposed hardened enforcement against repeat unauthorized border crossers, whom the Democrats say are inflating monthly Border Patrol apprehension numbers.
“Reinstating these kinds of consequences will hold individuals who break the law accountable, while ensuring that families, children and other migrants fleeing persecution are able to present themselves at ports of entry for a timely review of their asylum case,” Peters said.
But he also expressed uncertainty that Title 42 will end on May 23 as scheduled due to ongoing litigation and “shifting COVID-19 circumstances.”
Nuñez-Neto outlined the administration’s six-point post-Title 42 plan:
- Surging up to 1,000 additional law enforcement officials to the border, readying “soft-sided” temporary migrant holding facilities and beginning a vaccination program for those processed under Title 8.
- Create a digital filing process that includes electronic notices to appear.
- Increasingly charge unauthorized, non-vulnerable migrants with unlawful entry and apply expedited removal to those otherwise ineligible.
- Offer additional reimbursements for immigrant nonprofit organizations that provide housing, food or transportation to released migrants.
- Target transnational criminal organizations that smuggle people across the border and spread disinformation that puts ineligible migrants in harms way.
- Continue collaboration with Mexico and other partners to enhance protection for vulnerable migrants while enforcing their own immigration laws.