If you think the numbers at the border are bad now — and they are atrocious — wait until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
That was the message from the leaked contents of a conversation last week among Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and DHS officials about the possibility that the provisions of a law that allowed most illegal immigrants to be automatically expelled could be lifted, according to NBC News.
While the U.S. Border Patrol has been seeing roughly 200,000 illegal immigrant encounters for most of the summer months — peaking at more than 210,000 in July — Mayorkas, according to sources NBC cited, asked officials on the call whether DHS could handle 350,000 to 400,000 immigrants in a worst-case scenario if the government is enjoined from automatically deporting under Title 42 of U.S. Code 265, a law that dates from 1944.
On Sept. 16, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that President Joe Biden’s administration couldn’t continue using the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to exclude migrants seeking asylum in the United States. The order, which came after a lawsuit brought by liberal advocacy groups, was supposed to take effect 14 days after the ruling.
Late Thursday, however, an appeals court ruled the Biden administration could continue to invoke Title 42 until it heard January arguments in the suit, according to NBC News.
While the ruling means the administration can continue to expel most illegal immigrants, Mayorkas’ remarks on the call should wake up those who believe ending restrictions is manageable in the current climate.
For instance, it’s an unusual circumstance when the Biden administration finds itself defending the practices of the former administration in court, particularly when it comes to immigration.
Yet, Team Biden has been vigorously fighting the suit to end Title 42 expulsions, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union during the administration of former President Donald Trump. The Trump administration invoked the measure in March of 2020.
“Given that the administration was already this summer allowing most families to seek asylum and has now been in power for eight months, there’s no reason why there needs to be any further delay ending Title 42,” said ACLU lead counsel Lee Gelernt said.
“It is in light of the operational realities that the Centers for Disease Control made a determination in its public health expertise that Title 42 authority must be exercised,” Mayorkas said.
“It is a statutory authority and they made the determination that the public health of the migrants themselves, our personnel, local communities, and the American public require it. And that is why we are exercising that authority to serve the public health.
“Over 600,000 Americans have died, more than 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel have died. Many migrants have gotten sick. We are doing this out of a public health need. It is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we would embrace.”
So, the Biden administration’s public concerns over COVID-19, questionable as they are, have at least had the added benefit of keeping the border crisis from spiraling even further out of control than it already has.
Consider that July’s migrant encounter numbers, with over 210,000 migrants, represented a two-decade high for the Border Patrol, as The Washington Post reported. Now, Mayorkas is asking DHS whether or not it’s ready to process roughly twice that number. (And it’s fairly certain that he didn’t ask the question with the intention having it leak to the media, either.)
It’s clear the surge of migrants isn’t a seasonal thing as Biden assured us in the spring. Instead, it’s a function of his administration’s wayward promise to reverse the Trump administration’s immigration-hawk stances in toto.
For right now, at least, the Biden administration can use Title 42 to hold the sluice-gates of immigration closed. NBC News reported that played into the administration’s decision not to end the restrictions in July, as it had considered doing; some officials feared that rescinding the policy would lead to a “catastrophic” surge of illegal immigration.
What the majority of the American people don’t understand, when they see illegal immigrants walking into the United States through open sections of border fencing or over 15,000 Haitian migrants huddled in a camp beset with fetid conditions, is that this crisis could be a lot worse than it is.
Mayorkas seems to understand just how much worse it could be. Early next year, if things go awry in the January court case, we could all find out, too.
There’s a way to preclude all this, mind you: The Biden administration can and should start enforcing our border laws as written and get serious about dealing with specious asylum claims based not on plausible fear but solely on economic opportunity.
The administration has no intention of doing so, of course. However, it also has no intention of dealing with the political ramifications of 400,000 illegal immigrant encounters a month.
Someone in the White House will eventually have to decide between those two bedrock realities. COVID won’t tarry for the entirety of the Biden administration, at least not to the extent where Title 42 will still be legally defensible.
The choice about what path to take was almost made for the White House by Judge Sullivan — but the administration was saved by the deus ex machina of the appeals court. It’s only a matter of time, however, before public health law will cease to shield the administration from the consequences of its own rhetoric.
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