Apr 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: DHS chief concerned about lifting Title 42

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is seen speaking in Panama.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke earlier this week in Panama City, Panama. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has privately told members of Congress he's concerned with the Biden administration’s handling of its plans to lift Title 42 on May 23, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: The private airings by Mayorkas, recounted by lawmakers, belie public posturing that the administration is prepared for a potential influx of migrants. The secretary is not only charged with protecting the border but overseeing the process of ending the Trump-era immigration control.

  • Mayorkas has also indicated a level of frustration and unease with the repeal rollout, the sources said.
  • DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa told Axios: "As Secretary Mayorkas has said repeatedly, Title 42 is a public health authority — not an immigration authority — and he defers to the public health experts at the CDC for any decisions related to it.
  • "As he has also repeatedly said, we anticipate an increase in migrant encounters after the lifting of Title 42, and he is leading a whole-of-government response to apprehend, process and remove from the country those who are not eligible for relief," she said.
  • A White House official told Axios: "DHS has a plan and we’re working to implement it, and we will continue to work with Congress to implement the lifting of Title 42 in an as orderly and humane way as possible."

What we’re hearing: During a conversation with one senator a few weeks ago, Mayorkas communicated he was frustrated with the way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced its plans to end the program.

  • The CDC's Title 42 order — first issued in March 2020 — uses the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for turning back migrants without the chance to seek asylum.
  • Mayorkas, the first Latino and immigrant confirmed to serve as DHS secretary, shared his wariness regarding the expected influx of migrants once the ban is lifted, one source familiar with that discussion told Axios.
  • In separate conversations with other members earlier this month, he conceded there are significant challenges with lifting Title 42.

Mayorkas also acknowledged his own concerns about the expected surge in migrants, two other sources familiar with the talks said.

  • In some instances, the secretary pointed members to the CDC, and said the public health agency is calling the shots.
  • Members and their staff told Axios that, after Mayorkas walked them through the DHS' preparations for the potential border surge, they did not feel the administration had reached the level of preparedness needed to carry out the operation successfully by May 23.
  • Some of these private conversations took place before multiple House and Senate lawmakers began publicly criticizing the administration’s decision to repeal the border restrictions, and openly urged it to delay the repeal.

The big picture: President Biden's inner circle has begun discussing delaying the repeal of Title 42, Axios first reported this week.

  • The decision to lift the order has since put the administration in a jam.
  • Pressure is mounting from moderate Democrats, some in tough reelection fights as their party seeks to retain control of Congress.
  • They want them to delay the repeal until there's a proper plan in place, yet doing so would inflame the party's progressive base.

What he's saying publicly: "We have put in place a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border," Mayorkas said in a statement after the CDC's announcement.

  • Mayorkas told CNN this week: “I say, No. 1, that we have plans; we are executing on those plans."
  • "I think we have to be very mindful of the fact that we are addressing enemies, and those enemies are the cartels and the smugglers, and I will not provide our plans to them.
  • "We are going to proceed with our execution, carefully, methodically, in anticipating different scenarios," he added.

What to watch: Mayorkas is going to be grilled by lawmakers from both parties in the coming weeks when he testifies before different House and Senate committees.

  • He's scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee next week.
  • Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, also said he plans to hold a border hearing soon.
  • Peters recently told reporters that without "a well-thought-out plan," Title 42 may need to be "revisited and perhaps delayed."

Go deeper: "Biden considers delaying Title 42 repeal."

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