SAN ANTONIO, Texas — President Joe Biden announced that Title 42 will end at the end of May, but now there’s pushback from both Republicans and Democrats to have a better plan in place before that policy is lifted.
On both sides of the aisle, lawmakers are questioning how the immigration system will handle the end of Title 42 as more migrants than ever try to come to the United States.
In the past month, U.S. border arrests hit a two-decade high. Approximately 210,000 migrants were arrested while attempting to cross the border in March. That's the highest monthly total since February 2000.
Border Patrol agents and advocacy groups helping migrant families are preparing for what the potential change in policy could mean for national security.
“People figure that right now is the time to cross,” said Jon Anfinsen president of the National Border Patrol Council in the Del Rio, Texas sector. “We used to have weeks where maybe a thousand arrests in one week was sort of a fairly busy week, but now we're getting 10,000 in a week.”
For the last two years, millions of people have been turned around at the border because of Title 42.
“Title 42 is meant to be a temporary response to the COVID pandemic,” said Sara Ramey, an immigration attorney at the Migrant Center for Human Rights in San Antonio.
Former President Donald Trump enacted Title 42 in 2020. The policy was originally created in 1944 and allows U.S. Border Patrol agents to “prohibit" the introduction of migrants and asylum seekers into the United States when “there is serious danger of the introduction of disease into the United States.”
Immigrants from certain places like Central America and Haiti, where COVID-19 infections were high, were not processed for asylum. They were released from Border Patrol custody and left to wait with nowhere to go.
“We just basically have been expelling people, regardless of whether they've already been vaccinated, have tested negative, and, you know, otherwise are not in any way, shape or form a threat to public safety,” said Ramey.
This record wave of immigration is exhausting resources at the border.
“Border Patrol agents in Del Rio sector and across the country are completely overwhelmed. We're burned out. And there's really no end in sight,” said Anfinsen, who has been an agent for his entire career.
When Title 42 is lifted, Anfinsen expects more people to show up.
“So, you figure 10,000 people coming through here in a week? We now have to find space at least while we're processing them, for all of them. And that's the that's going to be one of the biggest challenges because not only is that difficult logistically, but it's difficult for the immigrants themselves, especially when they have kids,” said Anfinsen.
Ramey said Title 42 needs to end so everyone has a chance to claim asylum. Logistically, she knows that will be tough.
“Every case and every person deserves to be listened to. I think that's the biggest fear, is that we just don't have enough people to process the cases,” said Ramey.
She said she is worried if people can’t be processed and have to keep waiting along the border, national security is at risk, but not because of the migrants themselves.
“Title 42 has strengthened the cartels,” said Ramey. “It's basically turned people over to the cartels operating on the Mexican side of the border, and I think that when it ends, it's going to be a big blow to the finances of the cartels. I think they will be scrambling to find other ways of getting money.”
Anfinsen says if agents are overwhelmed processing cases without more resources, security at the border will suffer.
“We’re terrified of what we're not catching,” said Anfinsen. “National security is going to be affected. There's just no way around it.”
Both Anfinsen and Ramey agree that if more agents and staffing can’t get to the border quickly, the end of Title 42 could mean the start of a whole new set of challenges.