WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) – Immigrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border have unexpectedly fallen, not risen, since the expiration of Title 42 sanctions, the Biden administration said on Sunday, largely due to the reinstatement of criminal penalties for illegal entry.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorgas said Border Patrol agents had seen a 50% drop in the number of migrants crossing the border since Thursday, as President Joe Biden’s administration moved to new asylum controls aimed at curbing illegal crossings.
“The numbers we’ve experienced in the last couple of days are significantly lower than they were before Title 42 ended,” Mayorkas said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. He said there were 6,300 border crossings on Friday and 4,200 on Saturday, but warned it was still early in the new regime.
Mayorkas credited criminal penalties for immigrants who enter the country illegally, which were reinstated under existing law after the expiration of Title 42, for the decrease in crossings. The Covid-era rule, adopted under former President Donald Trump, allowed officials to quickly deport immigrants without asylum procedures but did not impose fines.
Asked how he hoped the border situation was going during a bike ride near his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Biden replied: “Much better than you all expected.”
Biden said he has no plans to visit the border anytime soon.
The Biden administration’s plan would require immigrants to schedule an immigration appointment through an app or obtain protection from countries they pass through on their way to the U.S. border. If they don’t follow the process and are caught illegally entering the US, they won’t be allowed to try again for five years. Other offenses are punishable by imprisonment.
“There is a legal, safe and orderly way to come to the United States. That is the path that President Biden has expanded unprecedentedly, and there are consequences if one does not use those legal paths,” Mayorkas said.
Officials in communities along the border have acknowledged that they have not seen the influx of migrants that many fear will further strain U.S. border facilities and cities.
“The amount of immigration that we initially expected — the big flow — has not yet arrived,” Victor Trevino, mayor of Laredo, Texas, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
But Republicans, who control the US House of Representatives, warned that an upheaval was still possible.
“I think the caravans are going up. I think they want to move in more,” Rep. Michael McCaul said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Representative Mark Green, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN: “What the secretary failed to say is that this week has seen more intersections than any time, any week in our history.”
Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s policy against a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that says the restrictions violate US laws and international treaties.
“This is not an asylum ban. We have a humanitarian obligation and a security concern to cut down ruthless traffickers,” he told the ABC.
A ‘broken’ immigration system
With US immigration policy in disarray, holding facilities, hospitals and cities have been left scrambling after tens of thousands of migrants crossed rivers, climbed walls and embankments into the US last week, just days before Title 42 expires.
Trevino said hospitals are at or near capacity, there are no pediatric intensive care units, and an emergency declaration is in effect.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leiser told CBS that the Red Cross is helping private organizations and church groups provide food and other assistance to the displaced.
“The immigration process is broken. There’s no choice about it. But we’re getting the resources we need,” Leiser said.
There has been little movement toward a bipartisan deal to address immigration in Congress.
Before Title 42 expires Thursday, House Republicans approved legislation that would resume construction of the border wall, expand federal law enforcement efforts and require asylum seekers to apply for U.S. protection outside the country.
The Republican bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Sarah N. Reporting by Lynch and Tyler Clifford; By David Morgan; Editing by Dan Durfee and Cynthia Osterman
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