Administration officials acknowledged this week that the move could significantly increase the record number of people trying to cross the southern border, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrests are at an all-time high.
The decision, expected to be announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, puts Biden in a familiar political stalemate over an issue he has long struggled to manage. Liberals are upset because they called for an end to the use of the order, known as Title 42, months ago, while vulnerable centrist Democrats fear it could further expose the party to attacks from Republicans who say it has not effectively controlled the border.
“There are just a few issues for which there is simply no policy or easy political way to solve them. This is one of them,” said Doug Sosnik, who served as political and political adviser to President Bill Clinton.
Some Democrats preparing for competitive races are already distancing themselves from the administration’s plans. The tension was evident in the response from Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), who sent a letter to Biden urging him not to lift the order without a more robust plan in place to deal with the consequences.
“There is still no adequate plan or sufficient coordination to end Title 42,” Kelly said in a statement after a conversation with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona ).
In a preview of the midterm attacks Republicans plan to step up this fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attacked Biden from across the border in a Senate speech. . “Opening the floodgates for a historic spring and summer of illegal immigration would be a direct error of historic proportions,” said McConnell, who also referred to inflation and Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield distanced Biden from the decision to stop enforcing Title 42, saying “it’s a decision the CDC will make.” But she added: “We are preparing for the unexpected. And so what I would say is, you know, our goal will be to process migrants in a safe and orderly manner. »
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (DN.J.) offered a mixed response to a draft plan to scale back the directive that had been circulating earlier this week, applauding the end of Title 42 but calling for faster movement.
“This is simply unacceptable considering they’ve had over a year to prepare,” Menendez said in a statement to The Washington Post. “They shouldn’t wait nearly two months to complete Title 42 in its entirety, but rather start doing it in phases.”
The plan the White House is expected to adopt would not fully lift Title 42 until the end of May, which critics say is roughly equivalent to another 60-day renewal. By setting the date at the end of May, the administration would have time to reevaluate its plans if a new variant of the coronavirus becomes a greater threat to public health.
Menendez said the May deadline gives potential migrants a target date to arrive and could entice even more people to come here, which immigration policy scholars consider a “pull factor”: ” For an administration afraid of creating ‘pull factors’, I fear their delay will create the greatest pull factor of all,” Menendez said.
He briefly discussed the matter during a call Wednesday with Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s top aides, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment. to discuss. The call centered on Menendez’s desire to have time with the president to discuss a long-running effort to revamp the country’s immigration system, the person said.
Biden officials are developing worst-case contingency plans for daily border arrests to more than double from the current volume of more than 7,000 daily arrests. They are hiring contractors to add tent facilities that can help process migrants faster, as well as additional buses and planes to transfer migrants away from the border. And they established a command center at Department of Homeland Security headquarters, staffed by interagency teams including Federal Emergency Management Administration officials who have handled major disasters.
However, it remains unclear how the administration might structure a phased approach to ending Title 42 that lifts restrictions on families first, and single adults later. Single adults pose a far bigger challenge: Records show migrants arriving as part of a family group made up just 16% of those arrested in February along the southern border.
Either way, Biden faces a tough climb when it comes to public opinion. A recent Economist-YouGov poll found just 33% of respondents approve of Biden’s handling of immigration. The only area where the president had a lower rating was firearms, where only 27% approved.
Even voters in regions far from the border are sensitive to immigration. In Wisconsin, which may have one of the most competitive Senate races in the nation, 36% of voters said they were “very concerned” about illegal immigration, according to a Marquette Law School poll in February.
The Title 42 order has been in place since March 2020, when the Trump administration said emergency restrictions were needed to protect US agents, migrants and the public from the spread of the coronavirus inside the posts. borders and overcrowded detention cells.
The order gave U.S. Customs and Border Protection the ability to summarily “deport” people crossing the border to their home country or to Mexico, denying most asylum seekers the right to seek humanitarian refuge in the United States. CBP has used Title 42 to perform more than 1.7 million deportations in the past 24 months, records show.
The vast majority of those rapid deportations have taken place under Biden, who ran for president promising a repudiation of President Donald Trump’s border enforcement approach.
After taking office, Biden halted border wall construction, ended the “Stay in Mexico” policy, and sharply reduced deportations and arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, among other measures. . But he also said his administration would keep “guardrails” in place to avoid having “2 million people on our border”.
Title 42 remained the most important remnant of Trump’s border policy. On Thursday, Democratic unity against Trump’s policies gave way to infighting, creating an additional challenge for Democrats as they seek to show voters they are a unified party.
“It’s an abomination that the Biden administration didn’t lift Title 42 a long time ago,” said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. “They played cowardly politics with the lives of desperate people and used public health as an excuse for political expediency.”
“Many of us are applauding to open our arms to Ukrainians who absolutely deserve it,” Castro said. “But the Haitians too. The same is true for many Central Americans.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), a centrist who is often at odds with the president, reiterated his view that Biden should leave the health order in place.
His remarks, reported by CNN, sparked a rare public spat between two Democratic senators. Using social media, Menendez called out to his colleague, “Let’s not embrace hate speech ‘they don’t send their best’ from the right, Joe,” Menendez tweeted.
On the Republican side, some lawmakers have used Biden’s decision to highlight what they see as a broader, more intractable immigration framework. But other party members did not hold back from criticizing Biden.
“There will be a deluge at our southern border! said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) in a speech to the House this week.
The Biden administration’s reliance on Title 42 grew as border crossings spiked in the spring of 2021. The president initially described the influx as a “seasonal” norm, but at the In the summer of 2021, CBP was reporting more than 200,000 border arrests per month.
The agency reported 1.73 million arrests in fiscal year 2021, the highest number on record. The current exercise, which began Oct. 1, is poised to eclipse that with the exact scenario Biden said he wanted to avoid, by putting “2 million people” into CBP custody.
Immigrant advocates and some Democrats have called on Biden to end deportations and restore full access to asylum, but his administration has instead opted to make exemptions for vulnerable groups: unaccompanied minors, people with medical problems and later most family groups.
This produced a border enforcement regime that was neither the kind of aggressive Title 42 enforcement seen under Trump nor a return to full access to asylum, leaving immigrant advocates angry with Biden. , but its border policies are much less restrictive than those of its predecessor.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.