Tensions remain very high within the Biden administration ahead of the expected repeal of a Trump-era pandemic restriction next month and the potential surge of migrants at the border that’s expected to follow, according to a source familiar with ongoing discussions.
Since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement that the restriction – known as Title 42 – would be revoked, the White House has been getting an earful from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including some who are expressing “complete panic” about the ramifications of that decision, the person said.
At this point, administration officials are juggling multiple balls: Trying to figure out how to get a handle on the congressional revolt, watching to see what legislative actions related to Title 42 emerge and trying to figure out how to be best prepared for what might happen at the border next month.
Asked about ongoing discussions at the White House about Title 42, spokesman Vedant Patel said in part that the administration is “hard at work planning and preparing” for the lifting of Title 42 and that the CDC that has the authority to determine when that should happen.
“When Title 42 is no longer in place, migrants who attempt to enter the country unlawfully will be placed in immigration proceedings,” Patel added. “Asylum and other legal migration pathways should remain available to those seeking protection but those who don’t qualify will be promptly removed to their countries of origin.”
Title 42 is a pandemic-era order that allowed US border officials to turn migrants back to Mexico or their home countries immediately because of a public health crisis.
Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have been vocal about their fear that rescinding the rule in May is not enough time for the administration to establish an adequate plan to handle the uptick in migrant crossings that is expected to ensue.
Arizona’s senators – Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly – sent a letter to President Joe Biden last month arguing the restriction needed to stay in place until the administration showed it had a clear plan to manage the number of migrants crossing the border. Kelly is facing a competitive reelection in November.
Republicans have seized on the repeal and have signaled it will be a key part of their midterm campaign strategy.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN on Tuesday his department is preparing for a potential increase in migrants.
Asked about the pushback from both parties, Mayorkas told CNN: “I say, number one, that we have plans. We are executing on those plans.”
US Customs and Border Protection had 221,303 encounters at the US-Mexico border in March, which marked yet another jump in arrests along the southern border. CBP has already apprehended more than 1 million people this fiscal year, which began on October 1. That includes some repeat crossers.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.