BROWNSVILLE, Texas — As border authorities made hundreds of arrests amid a new influx of migrants to the southern U.S. border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration is ready for the end of Title 42 because it has already been working to cut out smugglers.
Mayorkas has been in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas since Thursday to reinforce the Biden administration’s plans to stop using Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction that expelled migrants immediately without an asylum hearing. The policy will expire at the end of the day on May 11, when the U.S. will revert to using national immigration laws and other tools that target asylum-seekers.
Follow along for live updates on the end of Title 42
"We have seen too much death, too much tragedy, too much trauma, and the rule that we are finalizing and will implement by May 11 cuts those smugglers out," Mayorkas told NBC News.
The Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector that includes Brownsville registered some 2,300 apprehensions Friday morning. However some officials have said tens of thousands more could arrive after the administration ends Title 42.
"The landscape at the border has changed over the past 10 years. No longer are migrants able to just come to the border on their own. That land south of our border is controlled by smugglers and we are cutting them out," he said.
Mayorkas said federal officials have arrested more than 10,000 smugglers in an enforcement surge and are trying to correct misinformation about the border that is being disseminated by smugglers.
“The border is not open, it has not been open and it will not be open subsequent to May 11,” Mayorkas said emphatically.
Trying to warn many who are arriving and who could outstrip the capacity of border facilities and the staff members who must process the migrants, Mayorkas said: “You are risking your lives and life savings only to meet a consequence that you do not expect at our southern border.”
Mayorkas said he does not support a bill being prepared by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., that would effectively extend Title 42 for two more years.
Title 42 is "not an immigration set of rules," he said, adding that he is not worried about it no longer being used on the border. The policy has been used to block migrants from crossing the border 2.5 million times since it went into effect at the start of the pandemic, officials said.
However, illegal border crossings went up as legal avenues shut down. Recidivism rates also increased since Title 42 does not provide the penalties for repeated attempts to cross illegally. In contrast, under Title 8, the immigration law that usually governs enforcement, migrants can face up to two years in prison if they re-enter the country illegally after being removed or deported.
The Biden administration has made some exceptions to the law, allowing 30,000 Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans to "parole" into the U.S. each month, giving them a temporary stay and chance to work. Also, it has been allowing for some family reunification and for people with sponsors to enter the country.
"We are delivering lawful pathways for these individuals to come to the United States as our laws provide in a safe and orderly way," Mayorkas said.
The administration also began requiring people seeking asylum, parole or other legal pathways to use an app to schedule appointments. That app, CBP One, has led to great frustration as some migrants do not have phones or internet access, spots fill up fast and the technology has glitches.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Friday it is expanding the number of daily appointments available from about 800 to about 1,000 beginning May 12 and giving people 23 hours each day to make an appointment rather than at a designated time. A percentage of appointments will go to people who have set up their app profiles the earliest, so those waiting the longest to get an appointment are prioritized, CBP said in its statement.
Mayorkas said the administration distributed money Friday to communities to help them deal with any increases in migrants. The numerous people expected to try to cross the border and enter the U.S. is certain to be a challenge that needs the help of communities and nongovernment groups, he said.
But he added, "Fundamentally, we are working within a broken immigration system. The challenges that we are experiencing at the border now are not new to the United States of America."
Last Sunday, Mayorkas had said in an interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd that the administration was working with significant constraints in people, technology, facilities and transportation. For things to move quickly and efficiently at the border, the administration would need congressional support, including funding for local communities that will house migrants released into the country and support for the Border Patrol.
Border Patrol officials said it will take longer to process migrants when Title 42 goes away and that slowdown could result in backups in Border Patrol stations and drain agent resources.
Julia Ainsley reported from Brownsville, Texas. Suzanne Gamboa reported from San Antonio.