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US homeland chief warns of strain if migration spikes to 18,000 daily

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Aug. 19, 2021. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS)

The U.S. immigration system would come under intense pressure if the end of a fast-track deportation policy triggers a surge of as many as 18,000 migrants at the southern border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday.

“There is no question that if in fact we reach that number, that is going to be an extraordinary strain on our system,” Mayorkas said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But we are preparing for it.”

His comments come as the administration prepares to end on May 23 a public health policy known as Title 42 that has allowed the speedy expulsion of asylum-seekers and other migrants since March 2020 over coronavirus concerns.

Some Democrats in the Senate and House, including those in close reelection races this fall, have joined with Republicans to call for the policy to be extended and for a detailed plan for how the Department of Homeland Security would deal with an anticipated influx of newcomers.

The department’s contingency plans contemplate a spike in arrivals, potentially as many as 18,000 per day — a surge Mayorkas said would tax the agency despite efforts to be “ready for anything.”

“We’ve been planning since September of 2021 for the eventual end of Title 42,” Mayorkas said on “Fox News Sunday.” One of the pillars of that plan “is to work with our partners to the south and really ensure that they manage their respective borders, because the challenge of migration is not exclusive to the United States,” he said.

Mayorkas on April 26 released a six-part program for dealing with the expected border surge that includes 600 added U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel, work to mitigate crowding at Border Patrol stations and plans to utilize new migration agreements with Costa Rica and Panama.

Mayorkas ruled out providing more comprehensive details on the effort, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that risks aiding migrant-smuggling cartels.

“We have an adversary. We have the cartels that are exploiting vulnerable immigrants for profit,” Mayorkas said. “And I’m not going to provide them a blueprint of what we are doing.”

Many progressive lawmakers and Democratic leaders have praised the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wind down the policy, saying the Trump administration used it not to address the Covid-19 crisis but to keep migrants out. The Title 42 policy has allowed immigration officials to expel more than 1.7 million migrants from the U.S., according to the American Immigration Council.

Nevertheless, a federal judge’s ruling last week has left the administration’s decision to end it on May 23 in doubt. A judge in Louisiana issued a restraining order that temporarily keeps the Biden administration from winding it down.

Mayorkas has stressed that the end of Title 42 would not leave DHS powerless to remove migrants. He says they would be subject to standard procedures that can allow individuals to be placed in removal proceedings. He also says the administration is boosting its ability to process new arrivals and evaluate asylum requests.

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