The U.S. will lift COVID-19 border restrictions known as Title 42 on Thursday night, a major shift that has drawn tens of thousands of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border, straining local communities and intensifying political divisions.
The number of migrants caught crossing illegally has climbed in recent weeks, with daily apprehensions surpassing 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday. U.S. border cities have struggled to shelter the new arrivals and provide transportation to onward destinations.
In the backdrop of the chaotic scenes, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is surging personnel and funds to the border while implementing a new regulation that will deny asylum to most migrants who cross the border illegally. The new measure will take effect when Title 42 ends along with the broad COVID public health emergency.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the new rule would mean tougher consequences for migrants crossing illegally who, if caught, could be deported and barred from the United States for five years if they do not qualify for asylum.
Republicans fault Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in 2024, for scrapping the restrictive policies of Republican former President Donald Trump, his party’s frontrunner for the presidential race.
But in recent days, Biden administration officials have escalated their attacks on Republicans, saying they failed to fix immigration laws or provide adequate border funds.
“I asked the Congress for a lot more money for the Border Patrol. They didn’t do it,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives aims to pass a bill on Thursday that would toughen border security and restrict access to asylum, but it would face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority.
Since Biden took office in January 2021, the country has seen a record 4.6 million arrests of migrants crossing illegally, although the tally includes many repeat crossers. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed that only 26% approved of Biden’s handling of immigration.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a fierce critic of Biden’s border policies, expanded an ongoing National Guard deployment this week “to help intercept and repel large groups of migrants trying to enter Texas illegally.”
When asked on Wednesday whether Texas National Guard troops were overstepping legal boundaries by taking on border enforcement duties, Mayorkas said he deferred to the U.S. Department of Justice.