USAmerica Letter

Fears of chaos at US southern border may lead to immigration reform

Ending of Covid-era restrictions on entering the US is likely to bring an increase in the number of people seeking to cross the border

Migration is a hot political issue in the United States.

It is an article of faith among Joe Biden’s opposition Republicans that he has lost control of the southern border.

Last month the chairwoman of the Republican national committee Ronna McDaniel maintained that in March nearly 192,000 people were apprehended by US authorities trying to cross from Mexico.

Republicans contend that Biden has adopted a de facto open border policy and that drug cartels and people traffickers are thriving in such an environment.


The president had promised to establish an orderly and compassionate process for asylum seekers as he entered the White House.

But as the number of people seeking to cross into the United States increased, so did the pressure on him from the political right.

In the days ahead the political temperature over immigration will probably get even hotter as a key regulation introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic comes to an end.

A record increase in the numbers seeking to enter the United States is being anticipated, which the White House knows will only intensify the attacks from its critics.

Initially introduced in early 2020 under Donald Trump, the rule known as Title 42 was essentially a public health measure that allowed US authorities to quickly expel migrants who crossed the border without permission.

The stated aim was to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But it also affected those who wanted to seek asylum in the United States.

As the pandemic abated, the Biden administration came under pressure to end the operation of Title 42.

The measure is now scheduled to end on May 11th and the White House is bracing for what could happen afterwards.

Last month, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller predicted in testimony to the US Congress that roughly 10,000 migrants could cross the border each day when Title 42 is eliminated.

This would essentially double the existing numbers and more than likel overwhelm the capacity of US authorities to process those making claims to remain in the country.

The White House is all too aware of how such a scenario would be portrayed by its Republican critics as the US political cycle rolls on towards the presidential election next year.

Earlier this week the Biden administration announced that it would send 1,500 active-duty troops to the southern US border with Mexico. They will be deployed for 90 days to supplement the 2,500 National Guard personnel who are already there.

The Pentagon said the troops would fill gaps in transportation, warehouse support, narcotics detection, data entry and other areas.

The Biden administration has also proposed a system that would encourage those seeking asylum to use an app to book a meeting with American officials or first claim refuge in another country before reaching the US. It has announced plans for the establishment of immigration processing centres in various places in Latin America in a bid to slow down the numbers arriving on its southern border.

The Biden administration has also put forward expanded legal pathways for people to get to the United States from countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba.

However, the White House has argued that a comprehensive resolution cannot be found while the overall immigration system remains broken.

As the clock ticks towards May 11th, there have been last-minute efforts in the US Senate to temporarily extend the Title 42 powers.

Separately, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is working on a package of border security measures that is likely to include new restrictions on asylum seekers and a resumption of construction of the famous wall that Donald Trump wanted to build along the Mexican border.

But interestingly, as the US economy struggles to find sufficient workers, there are the hints that politicians in Congress may look at immigration reforms in parallel.

It has been nearly four decades since the last significant immigration legislation. But passing new reforms would be no easy matter and require 60 senators and the Republican House to back any new reform.

The US chamber of commerce – the country’s largest business association – along with more than 400 other groups has launched a campaign seeking politicians to enact measures before the end of the year that would secure the border and “modernise the legal immigration system”.

The ending of Title 42 may or may not lead to chaos at the US/Mexico border. But out of that uncertainty may come an opportunity for immigration reform that has not been seen in decades.