A growing number of Democrats in Congress are joining their Republican colleagues to urge President Biden to delay ending the Trump-era Title 42 health authority next month, fearing a dramatic surge of migrants at the southern border if the restriction is rolled back, according to a report.
The Biden administration, which is already struggling to respond to the record number of illegal immigrants crossing into the US, plans to lift the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy allowing border officials to expel migrants without first hearing their asylum claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic aides told The Hill that the administration should postpone the scheduled May 23 lifting of the restriction to allow themselves more time to come up with a plan to counter the expected migrant flood.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen but there’s a lot of lobbying,” a senior Senate Democratic aide told the outlet, adding that the best solution would be to hold off until fall or even until after the midterm elections in November.
“Extend it and move on,” the person said, acknowledging that Republicans are winning the messaging war over Biden’s immigration policy. “It shows how much the right drives the discourse.”
Democrats in tough races this November — most notably Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire — have long been critical of the decision to end the policy. But now, close allies of Biden are also getting involved, including Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Gary Peters, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Coons, from Biden’s home state of Delaware, said the rise in COVID-19 infections because of the BA.2 Omicron variant should give the administration pause.
“In the region where I’m from, we’re seeing infections rise. I think Philadelphia, for example, just returned to a mask mandate,” he said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“So my hope is that that will be reconsidered appropriately. I know that there are both Republicans and Democrats calling for a reconsideration and the administration just announced a plan for how to deal with a possible surge in crossings at the border,” Coons continued.
“When Coons breaks, it’s a big deal,” a Democratic strategist told The Hill this week, noting that additional COVID response funding demanded by the White House is tied up in the dispute over the border policy.
“They absolutely have to change this. They can’t get the COVID relief bill done until they change this,” the strategist said. “You’re going to start seeing every moderate doing this, making this their issue because you have to break with the administration.”
Peters, of Michigan — who is also the head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign organization — came out this week and said he was on board with keeping Title 42 in place for at least a little while longer.
“Unless we have a well-thought-out plan, I think it is something that should be revisited and perhaps delayed,” he told reporters Monday. “I’m going to defer judgment on that until I give the administration the opportunity to fully articulate what that plan is.”
Meanwhile, officials in McAllen, Texas, one of the busiest border crossings in the nation, said they are preparing for the worst if Title 42 is suspended and called on the Biden administration to help pay the cost of dealing with the surge of migrants.
“Logistically, it will be a nightmare,” Republican McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos told NBC News.
More than 7,000 migrants crossed the southern border per day in March, on average, and the Department of Homeland Security estimates that number will grow to between 12,000 and 18,000 per day once Title 42 is lifted.
Villalobos, whose town will be directly in the path of that flood, said officials have reached out to the White House for support with feeding, transporting and temporarily housing the migrants.
“If they need our help, then we need the funding. We are not in the business of immigration. We do not budget for immigration,” the mayor said.
Villalobos and city manager Jeff Johnson said McAllen received about $30 million from the federal government over the last year to assist with immigration, but warned the city will need a lot more than that once the floodgates are open.
“We believe that the federal government should resolve the issue that they have finding ways to get immigrants where they need to go,” Johnson told NBC. “We anxiously await their final resolution to all of this.”