BRONSVILLE: Tens of thousands of US law enforcement personnel have been deployed to the border with Mexico, officials said on Wednesday (May 10), as waiting migrants voiced confusion and anger over a looming change to entry rules.
The United States is girding for a surge in people claiming refuge from political persecution, climate-related disaster and poverty when pandemic-era restrictions expire overnight on Thursday into Friday.
In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, Venezuelan construction worker Michel said he felt trapped and frustrated after many failed attempts to use the new phone app meant to process asylum requests once the rules lapse.
“We don’t know what’s happening,” he told AFP after a dangerous overland journey from South America with his wife and five-year-old daughter. “They’re making things more difficult.”
About 24,000 border police and 1,100 processing personnel have been activated – double the number a year ago, and the Pentagon has sent 1,500 extra troops to reinforce 2,500 already in place.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, said the US government was “clear eyed” about the challenges of ending the COVID-19 restrictions known as Title 42.
“Even after nearly two years of preparation, we expect to see large numbers of encounters at our southern border in the days and weeks after May 11,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“We are already seeing high numbers of encounters in certain sectors.”
President Joe Biden this week warned “it’s going to be chaotic for a while.”
The crossings are a political flashpoint in the United States, with the rival Republican Party under Donald Trump championing strict anti-immigration measures.
Trump as president used Title 42, officially a public health measure, as a blunt tool to block migrants, but both the United States and World Health Organization say the emergency phase of the pandemic is over.
A group of Republican senators on Wednesday accused Biden’s administration of responding too slowly and attacked the decision to stop Trump’s signature proposal of a border wall.
“The administration has failed to acknowledge the crisis at our border, and is recognizing in the 11th hour that the upcoming removal of Title 42 authorities, and the subsequent surge in border crossings that is predicted, will have disastrous effects on the security of our nation,” said a letter led by Senator Mitt Romney to Mayorkas.
The administration counters that it has expelled a record number of migrants thanks to coordination with other countries, with an official saying that more than three million people have been removed over the past two and a half years.
The White House has also insisted that it will take a more humane approach, including not taking children away from their parents – one of the most controversial measures under Trump.
But the administration said on Wednesday it had finalised a rule that anyone who does not use legal pathways to enter the United States will be considered ineligible and subject to removal, although there remains an exception if a person can prove a “reasonable fear” of torture on their return.