Spike in U.S.-Mexico border crossings fuels political tensions as Title 42 ends
By Mike Blake and Ted Hesson
SAN DIEGO/WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. will lift COVID-19 border restrictions known as Title 42 on Thursday , a major shift that has drawn tens of thousands of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border, straining local communities and intensifying political divisions.
The of migrants caught crossing illegally has climbed in recent weeks, with daily apprehensions surpassing 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday. U.S. border cities have struggled to shelter the arrivals and provide transportation to onward destinations.
In the backdrop of the chaotic scenes, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is surging personnel and funds to the border while implementing a regulation that will deny asylum to most migrants who cross the border illegally. The measure will take effect when Title 42 ends along with the broad COVID public health emergency.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the rule would mean tougher consequences for migrants crossing illegally who, if caught, could be deported and barred from the United States for five years if they do qualify for asylum.
Republicans fault Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in 2024, for scrapping the restrictive policies of Republican former President Donald Trump, his party's frontrunner for the presidential race.
But in recent days, Biden administration officials have escalated their attacks on Republicans, saying they failed to fix immigration laws or provide adequate border funds.
"I asked the Congress for a lot more money for the Border Patrol. They didn't do it," Biden told reporters on Wednesday.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives aims to pass a bill on Thursday that would toughen border security and restrict access to asylum, but it would face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.
Since Biden took office in January 2021, the country has seen a record 4.6 million arrests of migrants crossing illegally, although the tally includes many repeat crossers. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed that only 26% approved of Biden's handling of immigration.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a fierce critic of Biden's border policies, expanded an ongoing National Guard deployment this week "to help intercept and repel large groups of migrants trying to enter Texas illegally."
When asked on Wednesday whether Texas National Guard troops were overstepping legal boundaries by taking on border enforcement duties, Mayorkas said he deferred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
SMALL CHILDREN IN TOW
With the Biden administration saying it will toughen enforcement under the asylum standard, some migrants have scrambled to cross while Title 42 remains in effect.
Hundreds of migrants in San Diego, California, including many small children, have been stuck in a -man's land between two tall border walls, often for days, as they wait to be processed by overwhelmed U.S. border agents.
On Wednesday, volunteers on the U.S. side passed sandwiches through the gaps in the wall and said conditions between the two walls were "squalid" as confusion reigned over the change in policy.
Joshua, 23, a migrant from Venezuela who requested that Reuters use only his first , hoped to enter the U.S. before the policy shift. He traveled to the border in Tijuana, Mexico, without his wife and daughter, wanting to bring them through a dangerous jungle separating Colombia and Panama, he said.
"With God's protection, is impossible," he added.
Another Venezuelan migrant, Luis Rivero, speaking through the border fence separating Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas said this week that he wanted to cross because the policy "will be stricter."
(Reporting by Mike Blake in San Diego, Ted Hesson in Washington and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in El Paso, Texas, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jamie Freed)