EL PASO, UNITED STATES (AFP) – The United States (US) border with Mexico will be “chaotic for a while”, US President Joe Biden acknowledged on Tuesday, days before the lifting of pandemic-era rules that have made claiming asylum at the frontier all but impossible. Tens of thousands of people are massing at border crossing points awaiting the expiration of so-called Title 42 overnight today until tomorrow.
Thousands have already entered the US, squeezing through the holes that pockmark the division between the world’s wealthiest country and its poorer neighbour, and a spike in asylum claims is expected. The Texan cities of El Paso, Brownsville and Laredo have declared a state of emergency as they struggle to cope with hundreds of people – most from Latin America, some from China, Russia and Turkiye – who are already there.
Asked if the US was ready for a surge in crossings, Biden told reporters: “It remains to be seen. It’s going to be chaotic for a while.”
The Title 42 rules were put in place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Donald Trump was president, ostensibly to prevent people with the virus from entering the country. In practice, it has been little more than a crude tool to swiftly expel those trying to migrate.
Tomorrow, migrants will once again be able to lodge asylum claims and have their cases dealt with through the legal system, a process that can take years. Biden’s opponents in the Republican Party have hammered the veteran Democrat over his border policy, which they said amounts to throwing open the doors, with dire forecasts that more than a million people could arrive in the next three months, overwhelming an already-stretched system.
Biden has ordered 1,500 active duty troops to the frontier, where they are expected to assist border patrol agents with the processing of applicants. With a presidential election 18 months away and immigration a regular fault line in the country’s fractious politics, Biden is hoping new rules – and the influx of troops – will help staunch that flow.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday lashed out at the president, accusing him of “laying down the welcome mat”. The Republican said he was sending members of the Texas National Guard to “hotspots all along the border to help intercept and repel large groups of migrants trying to enter Texas illegally”.