“People are concerned about where this is going and how to weather the storm,” a source familiar with the discussions told CNN.
“It was always going to be tough,” the person said, “and now they’re closer to midterms.”
Another source close to the White House described a “high level of apprehension” in recent weeks.
“They look at the border numbers every day,” the person said. “They are very aware of what the situation is at the border.”
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, two powerful political voices in the administration, are among the top administration officials who have been intimately involved in the discussion of the situation.
A political minefield
Biden, who campaigned against Trump-era immigration policies, has drawn heated criticism from Republicans for his handling of border enforcement. But he also faced pushback within his own party for continuing to implement some of his predecessor’s policies that are unpopular with progressives.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki highlighted the administration’s plans at a news conference Thursday, saying, “I’d like to note that the Department of Homeland Security has also put together a preparedness plan to continue to address the irregular migration that involves increasing personnel and resources at the border, improving border processing, implementing mitigation measures, and working with other countries in the hemisphere to manage migration.”
“We can’t let another Del Rio pass us by,” US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said last month.
“We will use much larger numbers after Title 42,” a Homeland Security official recently told reporters, referring to the “remain in Mexico” policy, which is formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols.
“We have a court order to re-implement MPP in good faith, and as part of those good faith efforts, we have consistently increased our enrollment in MPP,” the official added.
The Department of Homeland Security twice issued a memo trying to end the “remain in Mexico” policy, highlighting its shortcomings and arguing that it puts migrants at risk, but the court ruling forced the administration to restart the policy. The administration is appealing the ruling.
As of April 3, nearly 2,000 people have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to the International Organization for Migration. That number is expected to rise, though given long processing times and many other safeguards the administration has tried to put in place, it’s unlikely to expand enough to stem the flow of migrants.
Tens of thousands of migrants could arrive at the border once restrictions are lifted
Still, Republicans and some Democrats have raised concerns about the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to repeal Title 42 next month, arguing it’s an unwise move amid the Suppressed demand to come to the US among migrants facing deteriorating conditions at home.
Intelligence assessments have found that people are in a “wait and see” mode and trying to determine when they have the best chance of entering the US within hours if the CDC rule is repealed.
The White House has held interagency meetings on intelligence and the general situation, the official said.
By withdrawing Title 42, the administration is returning to business as usual procedures that have been in place for decades for migrant processing. That includes releasing immigrants seeking asylum in the US, sometimes under an alternative form of detention, or detaining immigrants and deporting them to their country of origin.
But given conditions in Latin America, which has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, more migrants may want to travel to the southern US border.
“As a result of the termination of the CDC’s Title 42 public health order, we are likely to face an increase in encounters above the current high levels. There are a significant number of people who were unable to access the asylum system. for the past two years, and who’s to say now is the time to come,” US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security released detailed plans for different scenarios that could play out on the US-Mexico border in the coming weeks.
Three planning scenarios have been designed to trigger what resources might be required. The first scenario is where the current arrest numbers are, the second scenario is up to 12,000 people per day and the third scenario is up to 18,000 people per day, according to a planning document.
The Department of Homeland Security has established a “Southwest Border Coordination Center” to coordinate a response to a potential surge among federal agencies. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appointed FEMA Region 3 Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney in March to lead the center.
As part of the preparation, CBP has deployed 400 agents from other parts of the US border to assist in operations at the southern border, increased the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to assist in the processing of migrants, called for volunteers in the DHS workforce and contracted to move thousands of migrants if needed.
CBP is also preparing to add new temporary facilities to alleviate overcrowding. According to the DHS planning document, CBP holding facilities can hold more than 16,000 migrants and expand to 17,000 with additional facilities opening in early April. Existing contracts can also be expanded to meet the needs if there are up to 30,000 migrants in custody in a worst case scenario.
But despite those plans, some Democrats are wary of moving forward with a return to business as usual protocols at the border. Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is seeking re-election, doubled down on his opposition to reversing Title 42.
“Senator Warnock believes in protecting the humanity of migrants at the border, but before this policy is rescinded, the Administration must come up with a plan for how it will ensure our border security has the manpower, infrastructure, humanitarian and legal resources they need to prevent this policy change from worsening an already dire humanitarian situation,” a spokesperson for Warnock said in a statement.