Two days before officials lifted the title 42 pandemic restrictions on the southern border, President Biden issued a blunt assessment of his administration’s ability to contain the wave of migrants they expected last week.
“It’s going to be chaotic for a while,” Mr Biden grimly predicted.
When the time came, what Republicans had insisted would be a career-ending moment for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas didn’t completely turn into the chaos that Mr. Biden and others had expected.
A first wave of about 10,000 migrants just hours before the rule expired on Thursday put new strain on already crowded detention facilities and shelters, and scenes of migrants, some with no place to sleep but a sidewalk, underscored the harrowing reality of a fractured state. immigration system.
But that was followed by a marked slowdown in migration across the 2,000-mile border into Mexico.
“America can handle this moment and we know how to do it in a way that is both orderly and just and reflects our values, interests and the rule of law,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice, a liberal pro-immigration group in Washington.
Still, she said the Biden administration should not “believe in the Republicans’ view that this is a perpetual crisis that requires perpetual policies focused solely on enforcement.”
The end of Title 42 after three years was a reminder – as if someone at the border needed one – of the vulnerabilities in the country’s immigration system, which is already far beyond its capacity to cope with the number of migrants entering their homes and to determine who can stay and who should be deported.
But the weekend also underlined the ability of federal authorities, local governments and private nonprofits to temporarily resolve the situation.
The government sent 1,500 troops to the border to free up more Border Patrol agents. Cities declared states of emergency and opened additional shelters for migrants in need of a place to sleep. Churches and other non-profit organizations received grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support their relief efforts. Border officials built temporary reception facilities.
The government has also imposed severe new restrictions on those eligible for asylum, a policy that has drawn fierce attacks and legal challenges from human rights groups. And officials increased opportunities for migrants to enter the country legally, using a mobile phone app to schedule interviews with an asylum official.
What followed was a quieter than expected weekend in Texas, Arizona, California and nearby Mexican cities.
At Gate 42 of the border wall with El Paso, the number of migrants arriving has decreased since Friday. On Sunday morning, local news media reported that only about 20 people were waiting to turn themselves in. However, state and federal authorities — including the military and migration officials — have stepped up operations in Samalayuca, about 50 kilometers south of Ciudad Juárez. reduce “risks to the migrant population,” they wrote in a statement.
The sprawling migrant encampment between walls on the San Diego-Tijuana border has also emptied in recent days as customs and border security agents begin to process those waiting there. Garbage bags and abandoned items were left behind. On Friday, Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero told reporters there were “no serious incidents” reported by authorities.
In Tamaulipas, the scenes of chaos that drove many desperate families to cross the Rio Grande have largely disappeared. In Matamoros, two Red Cross officials estimated that the crossings had been orderly. About 200 people showed up at entry points to request asylum — only a quarter of them had not previously scheduled an appointment through the CBP One app, the officials said in an interview.
Miguel González Ponce, a local pastor who helps house migrants in Ciudad Juárez, confirmed in an interview that the city’s shelters only held about 1,400 people.
“Contrary to expectations, migrants are not arriving en masse,” he said.
Administrative officials said their new border policies and added resources contributed to the lack of chaos.
“We’ve spent months and months planning this transition,” Mr Mayorkas said on DailyExpertNews’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. He added: “It is too early. But the numbers we’ve seen over the past two days are significantly lower than they were before the end of Title 42.
Mr Biden’s prediction of disorder may have helped the administration manage expectations leading up to the lifting of Title 42, especially with television cameras broadcasting live all weekend along the border.
Several thousand migrants crossing on Saturday and Sunday, which would be considered a large number in normal times, seemed disappointing compared to the possibility of protracted chaos.
Few people in Mr. Biden’s administration celebrate what appears to be a moment of calm amid an ongoing storm.
“It’s early days,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, the deputy secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters Monday.
Conditions in countries that have led to record numbers of people fleeing have not changed, Nuñez-Neto said. And the smugglers who have taken advantage of migrants fleeing to the United States are expected to adapt their monetization strategies to the new policy, he said.
“They will seek every opportunity to make a profit at the expense of vulnerable individuals,” he added.
The border remains one of the government’s most intractable issues, in part because the United States is at the center of a global shift in migration caused by economic and political deterioration in many South and Central American countries. Helping rebuild civil society in those countries – which the government has been trying to do – can help reduce the number of migrants, but it is a long-term goal with many obstacles.
Dealing with the border has also become one of the country’s most polarizing political issues, a situation that has prevented Congress for decades from reaching a meaningful agreement on how to make the system more efficient and fair.
Since taking control of the House of Representatives early this year, Republicans have targeted Mr Mayorkas, with some saying they intended to build a case for his impeachment.
The situation along the border since Title 42 was lifted on Thursday did not offer much dynamism for that matter. But that didn’t seem to stop the campaign of criticism against the secretary. The Republican National Committee accused him of refusing to admit the magnitude of the problems at the border.
“Mayorkas reaches new heights of border crisis denial” was the subject of an email from the committee on Friday after restrictions were lifted.
“Unacceptable,” the email read. “The only way their ‘plan’ works is if the plan is chaos. Mayorkas should resign.”
Mr. Mayorkas and White House officials have brushed off threats of Republican impeachment as little more than political theater. But they are furious at what they call Republican attempts to “sabotage” the situation at the border through legal action.
Just hours before Title 42 expired, a federal judge acting at the request of the Florida Attorney General blocked the government’s plan to release some migrants from the crowded border facilities without an immigration court appointment. Officials described it as an emergency measure used by previous governments to save time and avoid dangerous consequences of overcrowding in their facilities.
Following the judge’s order, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lashed out at Republicans.
“Even before Title 42 was lifted, the Florida Attorney General filed a lawsuit to sabotage our efforts to humanely and effectively manage the border,” she said. “And that’s what we’ve seen time and time again from Republican officials in recent months.”
But the political debate in Washington can still suddenly shift depending on what happens along the border in the coming days.
“We are in day 3,” Mayor Mayorkas said on Sunday.
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting from Washington, and Emiliano Rodriguez Mega from Mexico City.