U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema on a Jan. 9, 2023, visit to the border in El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Office
WASHINGTON — In a rare sit-down with reporters, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said Thursday that border states are not prepared for the end of a pandemic-era measure called Title 42 used to expel millions of migrants at the border.
Sinema, an independent, was joined at the press event at the U.S. Capitol by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who she has continued to work with on putting together a framework to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Both senators have a bill that for two years would temporarily extend Title 42, which expires at midnight Eastern time on Thursday along with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“What’s frustrating for those of us who serve in Congress, and for those of us who represent border states, is (the Biden administration’s) failure to prepare for the end of Title 42,” she said. “A willful failure to prepare for the end of Title 42 means that my state bears the brunt of the crisis that is coming.”
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U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday that the Biden administration is doing the best it can within the system that exists and Congress needs to pass immigration reform. “The solutions we are implementing are the best available within our current legal authority, but they are short-term solutions to a decades-old problem,” Mayorkas said.
Other officials have described the hiring of additional asylum officers, Border Patrol processing agents and medical and support staff. There are also 24,000 Border Patrol agents and field officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection deployed at the border, the administration says.
Several towns in Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border have declared a state of emergency, and Arizona’s governor has spent the coming weeks preparing for a possible increase in migrants.
Title 42 is a health policy that allows the U.S. to expel migrants from the country during a national health emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic. It was put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020 and throughout the Biden administration under federal court orders. Using Title 42, the U.S. has expelled more than 2.5 million migrants over three years.
At the same time as Title 42 ends, the House was set to vote later Thursday on a border security package put forth by House Republicans. The package has several elements of the Trump-era immigration policies, such as the continued construction of a border wall and detainment of children and families. It is unlikely to gain much traction in its entirety in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
Sinema, who is up for re-election in 2024, left the Democratic Party in December. U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat, has said he is running for the seat, as well as a Republican, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.
Sinema noted that there are “elements of the House bill that are problematic in terms of implementation,” but said when the bill comes to the Senate there can be a bipartisan effort to come up with a solution.
“I’m less concerned about the elements of the House Republican bill, and more concerned that they get a bill over to us because that’s how we can work together,” she said.
The chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, pushed back against that strategy about H.R. 2, the bill that Republicans are voting on Thursday.
“I don’t see how passing a cruel, unworkable bill opens up space for an actual bipartisan compromise,” she said during a Thursday press conference where Democrats said they are unified in voting against the GOP immigration package.
Mayorkas said officials at the border will fully transition to a Title 8 policy that comes with steep consequences for migrants who claim asylum without using some of the programs the Biden administration established, such as requesting asylum in a country they travel through or enrolling in a parole program for nationals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Those penalties include a five-year ban from claiming asylum and potentially criminal charges for trying to reenter the country.
There are currently more migrants expelled under Title 8 than Title 42. The total number of Title 8 removals outpaced the number of Title 42 removals on the Southwest border, with 636,173 compared to 419,147, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
DHS will also implement a rule when Title 42 ends that Democrats and immigration advocates have called reminiscent of a Trump-era “transit ban” that federal courts struck down and deemed unlawful.
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