Biden administration defends border policies as the battle over Title 42 heats up

As the pandemic eases, the influx of migrants on the U.S. southern border is reaching record levels. And the Biden administration is facing new questions from both sides of the aisle about plans to roll back Title 42, the policy that has kept many migrants out of the country. Lisa Desjardins joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the pandemic eases, an increase of migrants arriving at the U.S. Southern border is reaching record levels. And the Biden administration is facing new questions from both sides of the aisle about plans to roll back Title 42, the policy that's kept many migrants out of the country.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS):

    I now welcome our witness.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Routine budget hearings, but at a turbulent moment, putting Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the hot seat.

    Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security: We're dealing with a broken immigration system that was dismantled in its entirety in the prior administration

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At issue, the Biden administration's plan to end Title 42.

  • Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN):

    The crisis at the border continues to dominate the headlines, in part because of the administrations plans to repeal Title 42.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The pandemic border powers are due to end May 20 three. They stem from Title 42 of U.S. law, allowing emergency action in a health crisis.

    The Trump administration first invoked Title 42, and it's been used more than two million times to expel migrants, without chance for asylum. This month, the CDC concluded current health conditions make it unnecessary and that block should end.

    But there are court issues. A federal judge said he would temporarily force the program to keep going. And political issues. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders are openly unhappy with the Biden administration's handling.

    Mayorkas today replied to the scrutiny with a plan for when Title 42 is lifted.

  • Alejandro Mayorkas:

    We are leading the execution of a whole-of-government strategy which stands on six pillars.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    DHS will send 600 additional personnel to assist Customs and Border Protection, open new temporary facilities to hold 5,000 additional migrants, and step up enforcement with more expedited removals or detentions.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-OK):

    This plan that was supposed to define that for us is not a plan at all. It's basically how they are going to move people into the country faster.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senate Republicans, including James Lankford of Oklahoma, blasted the blueprint.

  • Sen. James Lankford:

    This is not a plan to stop illegal immigration. This is a plan to accelerate illegal immigration. And they even admit it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Last month, U.S. border agents encountered 221,000 migrants near the Southern border, a 20-year record. And DHS projects that will increase when Title 42 ends.

  • Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS):

    The border is not secure. The border is wide-open. This is the worst immigration crisis that our nation has ever seen.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the hearing, some skepticism from Republicans and some Democrats too.

  • Rep. John Katko (R-NY):

    The surge started on January 20, when President Biden took office. Why did you wait for 14 or 16 months to implement these things?

  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA):

    My question has to do with how you will process 18,000 migrants per day, while keeping time in custody below the 72 hours, and still be able to ensure due process without compromising necessary vetting?

  • Alejandro Mayorkas:

    There is no question that, if we encounter 18,000 people in a single day, that will seriously strain our capabilities.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mayorkas said, if Congress is concerned, lawmakers should work for a more comprehensive solution.

  • Alejandro Mayorkas:

    Only Congress can fix this. What we fundamentally need is legislation to fix what everyone agrees is a broken immigration system.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today's hearing came just a day after the Biden administration argued at the Supreme Court to be able to end the remain-in-Mexico policy, which requires that asylum seekers stay in Mexico until they have a court hearing. The court will decide the fate of that program by the end of June.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And for more on how the immigration debates are playing out at the Capitol, our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, joins me now.

    Hi, Lisa. Good to see you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hello. Good to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So let's talk about that plan from the Biden administration.

    How is that going over with Democrats and Republicans who are expressing concern about this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have to say, talking to a lot of lawmakers and also top Democratic sources in particular who have had problems with the Title 42 kind of plan to lift it, there's a lot of silence today. And I think that doesn't register well for the DHS secretary, the Biden administration, which was hoping to say, we have a comprehensive plan.

    There are still some doubts. It is a 10-page plan. It is not very long. It's something that some lawmakers have told me, I don't think this is comprehensive. We're not sure this solves the problem.

    And I want to remind folks what we're talking about — this is something that Democrats have been saying for a few days. Here's an example from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV):

    Forty-two should not be done away with until we get an immigration policy or until the CDC basically says, we do not have a health crisis.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And he's not alone.

    In the Senate alone, there are 10 or 11 other Democrats. You can look at these senators who have said, we don't think it's time to end Title 42. Some of them who said, we need a better plan. Some of them said, we need two months. They're in different places, but they just think it's not time, May 23.

    Of course, there are Democrats who say it is time. That includes progressive Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who say, this is a policy about disease that actually now seems xenophobic, maybe racist, implying that immigrants are more susceptible or bring diseases in a different way than Americans do.

    So these are all very difficult debates going on right now. Right now, it's confusing on Capitol Hill, definitely unsettled.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So they say they have concerns, but walk us through what some of the substantive concerns are about the rolling back of this policy and what the White House says in response.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    This is from Democrats and Republicans who are who are worried about it. There is a clear surge at the border, as you heard in the piece. That is tapping out and straining our resources to a dangerous level for some who are in border control, like the National Guardsman who died this week trying to rescue some migrants, and also for those migrants.

    There's a lot of concern about traffickers, smugglers, that we have seen an increase in fentanyl seizures, about 50 percent in a year. There's real concern about drug trafficking and whether that there is enough control over an expected surge.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And what about the court's role in all of this? We know there's a pause on the program. What should we know about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, just as you were sitting down and we were about to start this program, we did get the order from the judge, who has said that there needs to be a pause.

    And we have some more specifics now. This judge is saying that the Biden administration for the next 14 days cannot lift this order, that there will be a hearing in mid-March. And, after that, this judge says he thinks that the states who have a problem with lifting the order could succeed in their lawsuit.

    But, as of yet, the May 23 date hasn't been changed, but mid-May will tell us a lot.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So a lot to follow in the days ahead.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, as if that wasn't enough, all of this is tying up potential COVID medical funding, right, for vaccines and treatments and so on.

    Where does that stand right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's go through where we are in the Capitol, because this is very important.

    All of these things are intersecting, as often happens in the Capitol. Let's talk about COVID money. There has been a bipartisan framework, Senator Mitt Romney among those working out with Senator Schumer, for a $10 billion COVID deal in the Senate. That really does seem to have enough support to potentially pass.

    However, Amna, Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, their leader in the Senate, have said, we will not vote on that COVID deal until we get a vote on Title 42, some kind of measure to keep it in place. They want that vote.

    Why wouldn't Schumer agree to that vote? Well, it's because it probably would pass. There probably are 10 Democrats, as you saw those faces earlier, who would vote with Republicans to keep Title 42 in place. That would be an embarrassment, to say the least, for the Biden administration, who wants to kind of control this narrative.

    But it is a very confusing time here, because when you talk to — these are some allies of the — strong allies of the Biden administration, like former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. I was talking to him yesterday. And he was very clear. He said, we're simply confused. We don't understand the messages from the Biden administration. We don't understand what their plan is exactly.

    And I think, until there's that clear communication, there will be a problem. Other thing I want to say, this is a big picture problem for Congress in general. Underneath all of this is a broken immigration system. Everyone admits it. And Congress really needs to be discussing that, figuring out a plan.

    Are they doing that? No. And that has to deal with our broken politics as well. But it's a time for that discussion. Hopefully, we will see some. I don't know if we will.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Two huge issues that are now inextricably linked, in some ways.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa Desjardins covering them from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Thanks, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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