Migrants and asylum seekers march to protest against Title 42 policy heading to the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on March 21, 2022. Title 42 is a policy from Donald Trump's administration that stopped most arrivals at the southern border on the grounds that migrants could spread Covid-19.
What's going to happen when this pandemic-era migrant restriction lifts?
03:38 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Democrats running for reelection in the midterms are intensifying their fight against the Biden administration’s decision to roll back a Trump-era immigration rule, going directly to the border and signing onto legislation that would block the Biden administration’s actions in an escalation that could leave the party splintered on the issue before the midterms.

While immigration advocates celebrated the decision to reverse Title 42, many moderate Democrats have sounded the alarm warning that lifting the policy without an adequate plan in place will lead to a rapid influx of migrants at the Southern border, something that Republicans will be quick to seize on the campaign trail.

This week alone, two vulnerable Democrats Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Kelly of Arizona toured or plan to tour the southern border, meeting with customs and border officials to get information on the ground about how Title 42 will impact communities there and show voters that they aren’t running in lockstep with Biden. While both Hassan and Kelly have taken previous trips to the border, the visits come as concerns about the end of Title 42 have reached a fever pitch.

Hassan, who serves on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, visited a centralized processing center in McAllen, Texas, as well as a port of entry and the area along the border in Nogales, Arizona, over the weekend. Kelly plans to visit Douglas port of entry in Arizona on Wednesday where he will also meet with local officials about the impact Title 42 could have.

For Hassan, the trip only crystallized her worries over the Biden administration’s immigration move.

“My trip to the southern border reinforced my concerns about the administration preemptively ending Title 42. Border agents were very clear with me that the end of Title 42 will lead to a steep increase of attempted crossings that they will not be able to effectively handle because they don’t have enough resources,” Hassan told CNN in a statement. “In particular, border agents told me that they need additional personnel, physical barriers, and technology at the border to stop unlawful crossings, which is especially important because they expect that smugglers will try to take advantage of the increase in attempted crossings.”

Hassan urged the administration not to end Title 42 until they have a plan.

“The administration must have a humane process for those seeking asylum, which requires getting additional personnel to vet and process migrants. The administration should not end Title 42 until it has a comprehensive plan in place to strengthen border security and deliver this additional support to the border.”

Members have also worked behind the scenes over the last several weeks with Department of Homeland Security officials to try and nail down what the plan will be to handle a potential surge of migrants at the border once Title 42 is gone. Both Hassan and Kelly have had private conversation with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The administration announced on April 1 that it would roll back Title 42, a Covid-era policy that allowed migrants to be sent back to their home countries immediately citing a public health emergency rather than being processed under normal immigration rules that allow for more migrants to remain in the US while their claims are being processed. But, the decision has been met with steep opposition from many in Biden’s own party. Last week a number of Democrats in the House and Senate joined with Republicans in backing legislation that would outright block the administration’s decision on Title 42 until the public health emergency in other government agencies was also lifted. Kelly and Hassan both supported that bill as did Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

In the House, another five Democrats signed onto similar pieces of legislation including Reps. Jared Golden of Maine, Tom O’ Halleran of Arizona, Greg Stanton of Arizona, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire.

“I’m joining a bipartisan group to introduce a bill that prevents the Biden Administration from rolling back Title 42 until a concrete plan to deal with the consequences to border communities is proposed and approved,” said O’Halleran, whose district recently expanded to include more Republican voters. “Any changes to the current system must be robustly detailed and developed in consultation with local leaders, community advocates, and governmental entities in border states like Arizona.”

The decision has also put some Democrats in a tough political position between progressives and immigration advocates in their base who believe it’s long time for Title 42 to be repealed and swing voters who may see the decision and potential fallout as a reason to vote against a candidate.

Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Raphael Warnock of Georgia have both said that it’s not the right time to roll back the rule in public statements, but haven’t gone as far as signing onto the Republican-backed legislation to block the administration’s move.

“This is the wrong way to do this and it will leave the administration unprepared for a surge at the border,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “We should be working to fix our immigration system by investing in border security and treating immigrant families with dignity. Instead, the administration is acting without a detailed plan.”

While it does not go into effect until May, already the Biden administration’s decision on Title 42 has become a key campaign issue for Republicans who are trying to paint Democrats as soft on immigration and the rule of law. Republicans in the House have launched an effort to force a vote on the floor that would keep Title 42 in place. In the Senate, a fight over whether to vote on an amendment to block the administration’s decision derailed the passage of $10 billion Covid-19 relief bill.