Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas circulated a dense, 20-page memo on Tuesday describing a six pillar plan for an expected influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this summer.
The memo comes amid a looming legal and political firestorm over the Biden Administration’s decision earlier this month to terminate Title 42 by May 23, a controversial public health measure that has allowed federal officials to immediately expel migrants, including would-be asylum seekers, attempting to cross the border without authorization.
Parts of Mayorkas’s memo read as a preemptive political defense. “We are operating within a fundamentally broken immigration system that only Congress can fix,” he wrote. “After inheriting a broken and dismantled immigration system, the Biden-Harris Administration is securing the border and and building a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system.”
Republicans and moderate Democrats have accused the Biden Administration of terminating Title 42 without a comprehensive plan in place to prevent an expected influx of immigration. House and Senate lawmakers have blocked the passage of a big funding bill, which includes both supplemental aid to Ukraine and a COVID-19 relief package, unless they get the votes to reverse the termination of Title 42. On Wednesday, Mayorkas testified before the House Appropriations Committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security, where lawmakers grilled him about the termination of Title 42. On Thursday, the DHS chief is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
Mayorkas’s memo also comes on the heels of a major court decision in a case brought by Louisiana, Arizona, and Missouri challenging the Administration’s decision to end Title 42. On Monday, Judge Robert Summerhays of the District Court Western District of Louisiana announced that he planned to grant a temporary restraining order in a case challenging the Biden Administration’s decision to end Title 42. Such an order would require the Biden Administration to continue to implement Title 42 after its scheduled termination date of May 23, for a period of time to be determined by the court. It would also temporarily stop DHS from implementing parts of the plan Mayorkas outlined in the memo by forcing the Administration to continue expulsions under Title 42.
A senior administration official told reporters that DHS would comply with any future court order, but expressed frustration at the judge’s decision. “It really makes no sense to us that the plaintiffs would demand, and that the court would order, that DHS be stopped…in the aggressive application immigration law,” the official said. “So we will comply with the court order, but we…really disagree with the basic premise.”
“The ironic situation we find ourselves in is that the Biden administration has now produced the very plan they were accused of not having, at the same time as Republican Attorneys General have blocked the Biden Administration from putting that very same plan into place,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Immigration Council, tells TIME. “This puts the Biden administration in enormously difficult position. They are now forced to go to Congress and say we have a plan, but we aren’t allowed to use it.
An influx in migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border
U.S. officials have said that ending Title 42 expulsions will likely result in an influx of unlawful migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. DHS announced previously that after May 23, it is preparing to process up to 18,000 people a day, up from 13,000 a day at the beginning of 2021. That number may include people claiming asylum, a legal process and an international right. Those who do not claim asylum, lose their asylum case, or who otherwise can’t argue for why they should be permitted to remain in the U.S., will be deported, according to DHS.
The six-pillar plan itself largely marks a return to an Obama-era border policy. It calls for a surge of law enforcement officers to the U.S. border, the construction of new, temporary processing facilities, the expansion of an existing intelligence unit to monitor migration patterns and crack down on smugglers, and the imposition of strict legal consequences on those who commit unlawful entry.
DHS recently sent an additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 600 personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border, increasing the total number of agents and officers from CBP and other agencies in the region to 23,000, per the memo. DHS has also reassigned 500 additional agents to border security and migrant processing, the memo said.
A senior administration official told reporters during a press call Tuesday that DHS intends to significantly expand the use of expedited removal—an agency authority that allows officers to immediately deport people who recently entered the U.S. unlawfully and are caught at or near the U.S.-Mexico border, without granting them an immigration hearing. The plan will also work in tandem with efforts to address the root causes of migration, the senior official said.
Since March 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has invoked Title 42, a health order that DHS has used to immediately expel most people who attempt to cross into the U.S. without authorization, theoretically to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Just months before the midterm elections, immigration policy will likely continue to animate political mud-slinging. “We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under strain,” Mayorkas told the House Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday morning. “It is not built to handle the current levels and types of migratory flows. Only Congress can fix this.”
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