DHS chief touts 50% drop in illegal border crossings after Title 42 expiration

President Joe Biden’s administration has noticed a sharp decrease in encounters with migrants suspected of crossing the US-Mexico border illegally following the end of Title 42 last week, the chief of the Department of Homeland Security said on Sunday.

Alejandro Mayorkas hit the Sunday cable news circuit to tout his agency’s efforts to respond to an expected surge of migrants hoping for a chance to claim asylum by crossing into US territory without going through legal channels. According to Mr Mayorkas, the department has noticed as much as a 50 per cent drop in encounters since Thursday at midnight, when the Title 42 authority allowing DHS to expel migrants based on concerns about Covid-19 expired.

Mr Mayorkas credited that quick reduction in encounters to work that the administration had been doing for months to prepare for the end of that legal authority; among the administration’s efforts has been a surge of 1,500 US troops to the border region where they are assisting Customs and Border Protection with administrative and other duties that do not fall under the umbrella of law enforcement.

“We have communicated very clearly a vitally important message to the individuals who are thinking of arriving at our southern border,” Mr Mayorkas told CNN.

“There is a lawful, safe and orderly way to arrive in the United States. That is through the pathways that President Biden has expanded in an unprecedented way. And then there is a consequence if one does not use those lawful pathways,” Mr Mayorkas continued. Those consequences, he said, include deportation and a five-year ban on entering the US.

CBP officials reported about 4,200 encounters with migrants suspected of crossing the US-Mexico border illegally on Saturday, Mr Mayorkas said. On Friday, that number was above 6,000. He cautioned, however, that it was too early to tell if the surge of illegal crossings expected in the days after Title 42’s end was really over.

The effort comes as some on the left have argued that now is the time for Democrats to rally behind the idea of expanding and revamping the systems for legal immigration to the United States as a means of addressing the problem of high numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally as a means of reaching US soil and thereby becoming eligible to apply for asylum. Asylum itself remains a process that only ends in successful admission between 40-50 per cent of the time.

Republicans, meanwhile, remain split between those who merely wish to clamp down (significantly) on illegal border crossings and those who wish to reduce legal immigration to the country as well. Many on the US far right openly embrace the racist so-called “Great Replacement Theory” (or, at a minimum, use similar rhetoric) and accuse Democrats of wanting to change the racial demographics of America.

The aim of the troop surge has been to free up CBP resources for patrols and other in-the-field enforcement operations. But members of Mr Biden’s own party from the progressive to centre-left have likened it to turning the region into a war zone.

“The Biden Administration’s militarization of the border is unacceptable. There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and deploying military personnel only signals that migrants are a threat that require our nation’s troops to contain. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.