WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are quietly preparing for what they say could be the biggest increase in southern border trafficking in decades if a Covid restriction that blocks most migrants for nearly two years is lifted on Thursday.
In a call this week with senior officials of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asked if the department was prepared for the worst-case scenario in which 350,000 to 400,000 migrants would cross the border in October, two officials said. DHS familiar with the conversation.
Such a high number would almost double the 21-year record set in July, when more than 210,000 migrants crossed the border.
The two DHS officials stressed that the estimate is not based on internal intelligence or calculations, saying it is intended to prepare the agency for what could be an overwhelming number of migrants crossing if an order Court lifts Covid restriction, known as Title 42, takes effect weekend, where possible.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled on September 16 that the use of Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority implemented by the Trump administration to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020, will not not give the Biden administration the power to block asylum seekers from crossing the US-Mexico border.
Sullivan said his order, which he issued in response to a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups, would be effective in 14 days, that is, at some point on Thursday.
The Biden administration has appealed the ruling and can still appeal to the Supreme Court if the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, does not step in to prevent it from taking effect.
Recently, more than 25,000 Haitian migrants arrived in Del Rio, Texas in a single week, taking DHS by surprise and luring border officials into the role of crowd control. Images of border patrol officers on horseback trying to stop Haitians from crossing the river drew strong public criticism and led to an internal investigation.
Under Title 42, the Trump administration has barred most asylum seekers from entering the United States and returned them to Mexico, regardless of their nationality.
The Biden administration lifted the policy for unaccompanied children arriving, but kept it for families and single adults.
In recent months, however, the majority of families and some single adults have been allowed to stay to seek asylum simply because Mexico lacks the capacity to take them back.
“Given that the administration already allowed most families to apply for asylum this summer and has now been in power for eight months, there is no reason why there should be any additional time to put end in Title 42, “said Lee Gelernt, senior litigation counsel. for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought to prevent the government from using Title 42 to block families seeking asylum.
A DHS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Sullivan’s order would prevent the Biden administration from deporting families under Title 42, instead allowing them to stay in the United States while they wait their day in court to make asylum claims. Single adults, who were not part of the lawsuit against Sullivan, would remain subject to Title 42.
The Biden administration had planned to lift Title 42 completely by the end of July. Some US officials feared this would trigger a “catastrophic” wave of migrants, and it has not been lifted.
Now, the two DHS officials familiar with the matter say the agency is again concerned about an increase, especially if migrants misinterpret the policy change as a signal that the border is open and that they will be allowed to remain in the United States regardless of the outcome of their asylum claims.
Officials in the Biden administration have defended the use of Title 42 for public health reasons. Mayorkas recently said on MSNBC: “It is currently our government’s intention to continue to exercise our Title 42 authority in light of the public health imperative as determined by the Centers for Disease Control. “
International aid agency Oxfam, another anti-government rights group, said most migrant families decide to come to the United States because of poor conditions in their home country, not because they pay special attention to American politics.
If the administration and the courts continue to uphold the policy, said Noah Gottschalk, head of global policy at Oxfam America, “there is a very real risk… of very seriously damaging the global refugee system that has been established after World War II in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the rejection of people fleeing the Holocaust. “
“It is important to recognize that this is why the international asylum system exists,” he said.