‘Major operational challenge’: Biden admin races against time to end Trump-era immigration rule

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The Biden administration has publicly stated that it wants an end to Title 42, the much-maligned Trump-era health policy that was used to turn away more than a million migrants at the southern border.

They’ll probably get their wish in four weeks, and not everyone is sure they’re ready.

Immigration experts say they expect a stressful and chaotic transition as a court-mandated TUSEN to end the Trump directive is reached, one that could spark another rush to the border and intensify GOP criticism .

“Most people who have looked at this believe that when Title 42 is lifted, it will create a major operational challenge,” said Doris Meissner, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program. “The real question in my mind is, how quickly can the correct procedures be reinstated and put in place so that that challenge is minimized?”

The termination of Title 42 marks both the end of a contentious legal battle and the beginning of a new political battle, in which the government’s migration policy will once again be put to the test. It has been a troubling issue for the White House since the beginning of Biden’s presidency. But it can get even more complicated pretty quickly.

Earlier this month, a Washington-based federal judge blocked the use of Title 42, a public health authority that border officials have used more than 2 million times during the Covid pandemic to deport asylum-seeking migrants, even though many of these were repeat crossings. The judge argued that its use is no longer commensurate with the state of the pandemic, in which vaccines and treatments are widely available and travel in the US has exploded. The Justice Department asked for a five-week extension to “solve resource and logistical issues,” and the judge agreed to move the start date of his order to December 21.

When asked about the steps DHS is taking to prepare, a government official pointed to POLITICO’s “Six Pillars Plan” announced earlier this year, as well as its efforts to crack down on cartels and people-smuggling networks. The plan focuses on “increasing resources” – such as personnel, transportation, medical support and facilities to support border officials – strict enforcement of border laws, increasing the processing efficiency of customs and border guards, and strengthening the capacity of non-governmental organizations.

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“As was the case before Title 42 went into effect and will continue to be the case afterward, persons found at the border without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be immediately removed,” another government official said in a statement. declaration. .

According to the court response, the government intends to fully return to the migrant processing procedures the country has previously and historically outlined under Title 8. That would allow the government to remove anyone from the country unable to provide a legal basis – such as an approved asylum application. Mayorkas told lawmakers at a hearing last week that his department plans to make “enhanced use” of these expedited removal processes at the southern border.

In requesting a five-week extension, the DOJ said the Department of Homeland Security needed the extra time to source resources to prepare for the transition from Title 42 to Title 8 processing.

The resource gaps likely relate to the need for agents to screen and process the influx of asylum seekers, said Greg Chen, senior director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. There is also great concern about immigration courts, which closed fiscal year 2022 with a backlog of 1.9 million cases, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an impartial research organization at Syracuse University.

And because of the unprecedented level of irregular migration landing at the southern border, Chen said, the administration will need even more asylum seekers, judicial personnel and other resources to support the system than it did two years ago.

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Both the Trump and Biden administrations appeared to be relying on Title 42 to limit migrant flows to the US-Mexico border for reasons that had little to do with the spread of Covid.

But Republicans have fought to uphold the injunction as Biden’s White House attempted to end the program earlier this year but was thwarted by a Louisiana-based federal judge acting in a lawsuit brought by 24 Republican-led states .

Ending the directive is expected to fuel GOP attacks, particularly in the House, where Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has already called for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to resign.

But Biden is also under pressure from his own ideological tent. Proponents have long argued for the end of Title 42, arguing there was no rational basis for its use once pandemic fears subsided.

The end of the policy is unlikely to lead to an end to criticism. With an influx of people and a deadlocked system, migrants could spend months in detention centers — another part of the system that the administration is likely preparing, Chen said. These facilities have been criticized for dangerous overcrowding, health and hygiene issues, as well as impeded legal access.

Expanding the use of detention for people arriving at the border is “very controversial,” Chen said. “It’s a system that is sorely lacking in adequate oversight to ensure that people are treated humanely.”

Even given enough time, many of the resources sought require legislative action, Chen said. But the prospects of Republicans and Democrats striking a deal are slim.

“We are open to the reality that despite all the progress we have made, we continue to operate within the constraints of a decades-old fractured immigration system that Republican officials refuse to allow us to fix,” an official said. told POLITICO.

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Administrative officials always knew Title 42 would end at some point, and preparations were underway, said Angela Kelley, who served as Mayorkas’ senior immigration adviser until May and is now chief adviser on policy and partnerships at the American Immigration Lawyers Association . Some of this planning seems evident in the data.

Compared to 2021, fewer people were deported under Title 42 this fiscal year, while the number of migrants allowed to have their asylum applications processed nearly doubled – possibly due to a move to Title 8. In September, 72,472 migrants were deported at the southern border deported under Title 42, while 135,125 were apprehended under Title 8, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection records.

The administration has also made efforts to speed up the asylum processing system. A new rule issued by the department this spring gives asylum officials — not just judges — the power to determine who qualifies and who should be rejected. In the long run, this will lead to a faster and fairer asylum process, says Meissner, a former immigration commissioner. But this new process, too, is burdened by resource needs and has so far only been used to process a small number of people.

Kelley expects a rocky start on December 21, but once processing resumes, she expects the pressure on the system to ease. Still, she warns, problems will plague the southern border given the current state of the immigration system, one President Joe Biden has promised to review.

“It really is like a Rubik’s cube. The day after title 42 comes out, I think it’s going to mix up the different colors. And over time, the different sides will be the same color,” Kelley said. “But it will take time and it will still be imperfect because our system needs to be modernized.”

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