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Democratic Rep. Gallego says White House is unprepared for migrant surge when Title 42 ends

Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, who is running for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat next year, urged the Biden administration to provide more resources as the Covid-era policy ends.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., in Phoenix on April 6, 2023.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., in Phoenix on April 6.Matt York / AP file

WASHINGTON — The latest criticism against the Biden administration’s policies at the southern border isn’t coming from a conservative — it’s being levied by progressive Rep. Ruben Gallego.

The Arizona Democrat argues that border communities in his state “are simply unequipped to handle the surge of migrants” when Covid restrictions on immigration, known as Title 42, expire on May 11.

In four letters addressed to President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and House Appropriations Committee leaders Thursday, Gallego raised concerns that the administration has not done enough to address the state's needs ahead of what is expected to be a surge in migration.

Gallego, who announced a bid for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat earlier this year, requested information on everything from the administration’s plan after Title 42 sunsets on May 11 to how the active-duty troops the Biden administration is sending to the border will assist front-line officers.

“I have heard repeated concerns about a lack of information around federal government policy that directly impacts Arizonans, our communities, and our local economies,” Gallego wrote to Biden after holding one-on-one calls with local officials. “That includes limited notification of what resources and Department of Defense personnel will be sent to their area.”

Gallego said that mayors and county officials had expressed “confusion around new administration policy on migrant processing prioritization based on national origin, requests for asylum, and combinations thereof” and are frustrated by their “inability to share complaints, concerns, and critical observations with federal officials.”

Earlier this year, Gallego signed onto a letter addressed to the White House expressing concern that the administration had initially expanded the Title 42 policy, which has been used to turn away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Covid health emergency.

Sinema, an independent who has not yet said if she’ll run for re-election, has also been critical of the administration’s plan for ending Title 42. She and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., are preparing to introduce bipartisan legislation that would effectively extend the policy for two more years, according to multiple people familiar with the process. The bill would give the Biden administration “a two-year temporary expulsion authority, mimicking the operations of Title 42,” a spokesperson for Sinema told NBC News, though it would not rely on a public health emergency.

The Biden administration will deploy 1,500 troops to the border on May 10 for a period of 90 days, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the troops “will be performing administrative tasks, like data entry and warehouse support” but would not interact with migrants.

Gallego, a veteran and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he supports the administration’s decision to deploy active-duty troops to the border, breaking with senior Democrats and immigration advocates who criticized Biden’s decision.

“Title 42 was eventually going to get stripped down, and we needed to have a plan to move forward,” Gallego told NBC News in a phone interview. 

“In the meantime, what we can do is agree that these towns need help. They should not be taking it on the chin because the federal government has failed to come up with a solution and surge forward a lot of resources and money that they need.”