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Mayorkas blames Congress as US preps for ‘difficult’ weeks at border

Homeland Security secretary says lack of resources, outdated immigration system created current situation

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference Wednesday on planning and operations in advance of the cessation of the Title 42 public health order. Also pictured is acting Assistant Secretary of State Ricardo Zuniga.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference Wednesday on planning and operations in advance of the cessation of the Title 42 public health order. Also pictured is acting Assistant Secretary of State Ricardo Zuniga. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday blamed Congress for failing to provide sufficient resources to manage the border and leaving the U.S. immigration system outdated, one day before pandemic-related asylum restrictions are set to lift.

The Biden administration is preparing to terminate on Thursday night the so-called Title 42 policy, which has allowed border agents to turn back asylum-seekers without a hearing for more than three years. The Department of Homeland Security has projected border agents could encounter as many as 13,000 migrants per day once the policy ends.

Mayorkas — who has faced calls from House Republicans to resign and threats of impeachment amid record high levels of border crossings — pointed the finger back at Congress over what he warned would be a “difficult” few weeks after the border policy terminates.

“Our current situation is the outcome of Congress leaving a broken outdated immigration system in place for over two decades, despite unanimous agreement that we desperately need legislative reform,” Mayorkas said at a news conference at U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington.

“It is also the result of Congress’ decision not to provide us with the resources we need and that we requested.”

Mayorkas said border agents are already seeing high numbers of border crossings in certain areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, and he expects to see higher numbers of migrants crossing the border in the coming weeks.

“This places an incredible strain on our personnel, our facilities and our communities with whom we partner closely,” Mayorkas said. “Our plan will deliver results but it will take time for those results to be fully realized.”

Lawmakers from border districts have raised concerns that their communities will be overwhelmed by a potential migration influx, and members of Congress have already begun discussing the possibility of passing legislation to provide additional funding for border management.

Asked if his department intended to request supplemental funding from Congress, Mayorkas responded that DHS had diverted funds internally toward the border but that this reprogramming “is a fraction of what we ultimately need.”

Preparations

Mayorkas’ call to Congress comes as the Biden administration rolls out a slew of efforts to try to reduce an expected spike in migration once the Title 42 directive ends.

Mayorkas announced Wednesday that the department launched a new digital advertising campaign in South and Central America “to counter the lies of the smugglers with accurate information about U.S. immigration laws.”

The State Department also announced that it plans to eventually open 100 regional processing centers abroad, where foreign citizens hoping to migrate to the U.S. could be pre-screened to determine if they are eligible for protection without traveling to the border.

According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters Tuesday evening on the condition of anonymity, an online platform for individuals to make appointments at these centers will launch “in the coming days.”

Earlier Wednesday, DHS also released its finalized version of a policy that would make it harder for migrants to qualify for asylum if they cross the border without authorization after passing through another country. The rule is set to take effect on Thursday to coincide with the end to the Title 42 policy.

Specifically, the 447-page rule — which has drawn more than 50,000 public comments since it was proposed in February — would create a “rebuttable presumption” of asylum ineligibility for migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry if they had not attempted to seek protection in Mexico or another country through which they crossed.

Migrants would be exempted from this if they are approved to enter the country legally, such as by requesting asylum at a port of entry after securing an appointment on the government’s CBP One app or being granted temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. through a legal authority known as parole. Migrant children traveling without their parents are also exempted, according to the rule.

Human rights advocates have criticized the asylum transit restrictions for restricting asylum access for vulnerable populations and compared it to a policy issued under former President Donald Trump that made migrants who crossed the border ineligible for asylum unless they have attempted to seek protection in another country first.

Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies for the American Civil Liberties Union — which challenged the Trump-era asylum rule in court — accused President Joe Biden of “finishing Trump’s job rather than fulfilling his own campaign promises.”

“This is a somber day for our country and for refugees in desperate search of safety, but the fight is far from over,” Blazer said in a news release.

Danilo Zak, associate director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, a faith-based nonprofit, said in a release that the decision to replace the Title 42 directive with these restrictions “represents an unwillingness to move away from punitive, fear-based border policy and towards humane solutions that would effectively and compassionately manage the border.”

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