Biden administration officials on lifting Title 42: 'It would be catastrophic'

AP Photo/Moises Castillo

Earlier this week NBC News reported that the Biden administration was having second thoughts about a plan to end Title 42 removals for most migrants who try to enter the country. The administration had been planning to end Title 42 at the end of this month but the story suggested the recent surge of coronavirus cases among migrants at the border was leading them to reconsider. An unnamed White House official told NBC, “We’ll continue to defer to the public health experts on these decisions.” Mentioned at the very end of that story was the June border apprehension numbers which were a 21-year high. When I wrote about the story I suggested this was the real concern behind the Biden administration’s change of heart.

Yesterday NBC published a follow up story which is much more straightforward about what the Biden administration is worried about. It’s headlined, “Biden administration officials fear lifting Covid restrictions at border could trigger migrant surge.

The rising number of cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. caused by the delta variant of the coronavirus is one factor pressuring the White House to rethink its plan. But, the two U.S. officials said, the administration is also concerned about funding, facilities and staffing issues associated with lifting the restrictions…

The officials said there is concern that if more immigrants are allowed to enter the U.S. to have their cases heard in immigration court, others might try to make the journey, overwhelming the system. The system, made up of multiple agencies, apprehends, processes and briefly detains undocumented immigrants, as well as monitors their whereabouts and adjudicates their claims, and it may eventually deport them.

“They’re assuming a ton of people would want to cross the border,” an official said.

Another official said: “If they lift it just for families, we could see a rise in families. If they totally wiped it out, we could have a rush at the border. It would be catastrophic.”

The unnamed officials being quoted by NBC probably mean it would be catastrophic for the Border Patrol if there was a sudden rush of migrants on top of the two-decade high we’re already experiencing. But I think it’s obvious that the real motivator here is the optics of this looming disaster.

The Biden administration has been claiming this isn’t a crisis, just a challenge. And they’ve claimed some success in dealing with that challenge, mostly by shuffling people from CBP facilities into HHS facilities which, in some cases, are nearly identical and built right next door. It’s a shell game but the media has only been occasionally interested in the poor conditions at those facilities. And of course hypocrites like AOC who shouted about “concentration camps” a couple years ago when it could all be blamed on Trump haven’t said anything like that since Biden was elected.

Politically, the situation we have now isn’t good but it’s manageable. The Biden administration is waiting for the normal seasonal variation to kick in so they can claim victory, i.e. see, the numbers went down and things are improving! That could happen this month as the weather is getting really hot and migrants are aware they are risking their lives to try to cross the desert in these conditions. But the whole plan to market this as a success would fall apart if Biden announces a change of Title 42 policy which leads to a fresh wave of migrants. Suddenly instead of a manageable problem and declining numbers, you could see the opposite. That would quickly renew interest in the whole situation from the media and lead to more images of large groups of people streaming across the border on television. And the Biden administration and Democrats don’t need that a year before the next election to determine who controls the House and Senate.

I’m speculating here but my guess is that someone in the White House is watching the border apprehension numbers on a daily basis and realizes getting rid of Title 42 now would not only be a genuine disaster at the border but a political one for team blue. That’s why the plan to end Title 42 is suddenly “in flux” despite the call from activists to get rid of this Trump-era border policy.