(Updates throughout with additional reporting.)
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The Biden administration is sharing new details of how it will manage increased border crossings when pandemic-related restrictions end, an effort to mollify the growing number of Democrats who’ve criticized the plan.
The six-part strategy, which focuses on speeding up migrant processing and targeting smugglers, largely reflects actions the Department of Homeland Security has already outlined but includes more specifics. For example, DHS commits to increasing use of a process called expedited removal to quickly deport migrants who don’t meet initial thresholds to seek asylum.
The agency expects significant increases in migrant arrivals after the termination of Title 42, a public health authority that has allowed the quick expulsion of migrants since 2020. The policy is set to lift May 23, but that timeline may be thrown off by legal action.
“Many elements of this plan are already being implemented as we manage a historic number of encounters, including a record number of noncitizens trying to enter the United States multiple times,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a 20-page memo released Tuesday. “Others are elements that we are prepared to implement once the Title 42 termination goes into effect.”
DHS is working to prepare for as many as 18,000 migrants a day when Title 42 lifts. Moderate and politically vulnerable Democrats previously argued that the agency lacked a sufficient plan for the influx. It remains unclear whether the new memo will win them over.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), one of those skeptics, on Tuesday said he hadn’t yet seen the Biden administration’s new memo but was open to what DHS’s latest document says. “Hopefully it has more than 16 pages,” he said.
Several Republicans gave the Biden administration’s new memorandum a cool reception. “They can come up with the best plan in the world, but they’re never going to execute it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
Mayorkas talked to several lawmakers Tuesday to lay out details of the plan. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he spoke with the secretary about the memorandum’s highlights.
“Trying to be able to pull together some ideas is encouraging, but it doesn’t seem like it has an implementation plan so far,” he said. A provision to encourage other nations to tighten their borders, for example, lacks consequences for those that don’t, he said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the top Republican on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said she and Mayorkas discussed whether DHS would need more funds to secure the border.
“It’s on my mind,” Capito said. She added that Mayorkas didn’t ask for supplemental funding during their conversation but also didn’t rule out asking in the future. DHS has already said its current appropriation is insufficient to address rising border crossings.
“The administration needs to ask for serious money—what it will actually take—and be ready to move officials around the country to where the needs are,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Tom Warrick said. “Congress needs to appropriate the money needed to make this plan work.”
A federal judge’s decision Monday threw a wrench in the Biden administration’s efforts to wind down Title 42. Judge Robert Summerhays in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana plans to grant conservative states’ request for a temporary restraining order.
The details of the decision haven’t been finalized, but it appears to target DHS’s shift away from Title 42 for some migrants in recent weeks, ahead of the May 23 termination date. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), one of the lead challengers in the case, on Tuesday said the court order would last until May 13. The court is scheduled to hear arguments that day on the states’ request for a broader preliminary injunction to keep Title 42 in place for months while litigation continues.
Senior administration officials on Tuesday said the administration would comply with any order the court issues but added that they disagree with the premise of it.
With assistance from Jordan Fabian
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org