Beto O’Rourke knocks Biden for ending Title 42 without a plan to deal with influx of migrants

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto ORourke says the Biden administration needs to give border officials a plan for dealing with migrants after Title 42 ends. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke knocked the Biden administration for failing to give border communities a plan for dealing with the number of migrants at their doorstep before saying he’ll end the pandemic-era emergency health order that allows federal officials to turn people away at the border next month.

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“It does not make sense to end this until there is a real plan and the capacity in place to handle those and address those that come over,” O’Rourke said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Tuesday. “I have yet to hear a plan from the Biden administration to address the dynamic we will have on the border once Title 42 ends.”

Last month, the Biden administration said it would end Title 42, the emergency health order that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cited in September to deport 7,000 asylum-seekers from Haiti who had gathered at the international bridge in Del Rio. The administration plans to end the emergency health order in May, and federal officials expect the number of migrants at the country’s southern border to drastically increase in the following months.

O’Rourke has previously called for the federal government to end Title 42, saying it has led to repeat crossings that contribute to an overwhelmed Border Patrol staff, and has pushed instead for a better system for processing asylum claims.

On Tuesday, O’Rourke called the health order counterproductive.

“What it has done is produced a situation where the same person is crossing multiple times a week, and under Title 42 that Border Patrol agent simply turns that person back around and then that person tries to cross the next day,” he said. “They’re not arrested, not detained, there are no consequences for someone who is not following our laws when they try to come into this country, and it means that this country is not following its laws when it comes to those who are trying to make a legitimate claim for asylum.”

But, he said, border officials he’s met with are concerned that the Biden administration will end the health order without giving them a plan to deal with the large number of migrants at their doorstep. DHS officials said they could face up to 18,000 migrants a day at the southern border once Title 42 ends.

“Everyone is legitimately concerned about the lack of a plan,” he said. “We should hold the federal government accountable for doing its job, and they’re not doing that.”

A spokesperson for the Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden’s plan to end Title 42 has spurred aggressive action from Gov. Greg Abbott, who unveiled plans last week to bus migrants apprehended by immigration officials at the border to Washington, D.C. — if they volunteer — and increase commercial vehicle inspections at Texas’ ports of entry.

Those inspections have snarled traffic at the state’s international bridges, causing massive delays for truck crossings and millions of dollars in economic damage to businesses in the state. Abbott says the inspections are necessary because commercial vehicles are used by drug cartels to smuggle drugs and humans into the state.

O’Rourke slammed Abbott’s plan as a “very expensive stunt” and said he would take a different approach as governor.

“Instead of stunts, we are going to lead in Texas on an issue we know better than any other state,” he said.

Abbott said his actions are needed because the Biden administration has not taken action to reduce the number of migrants coming to the southern border.

“Securing the border would cost Texas nothing if the federal government was doing its job, but because Joe Biden is not securing the border, the state of Texas is having to step up and spend Texas taxpayer money doing the federal government’s job,” Abbott said in announcing his policies last week.

At a press conference in Pharr with the owner of a trucking company and a warehouse, O’Rourke hammered Abbott for slowing down trade to try to curb the number of migrants at the border, saying most undocumented immigrants cross in between ports of entry, not through them.

He also said the inspections, which are mechanical reviews that truckers said take between 40 and 60 minutes, could do very little in terms of deterring migrant crossings and were only impacting the state’s economy. O’Rourke said he spoke to an importer in Pharr who had already started losing business to other ports of entry in Nogales, Arizona, where companies were sending their product to avoid the delays in Texas ports.

“It’s killing business and the economy in Texas,” he said.

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