The Department of Homeland Security put a plan in place months ago to deal with thousands of migrants arriving at the border: Send some of them to towns deeper inside the United States to be treated there.
But the plan is dead for now, officials told CNN, in part after the White House balked at the complicated logistics.
It’s been an endless cycle since President Joe Biden took office, according to multiple administration officials and sources close to the White House. Agency officials dream up a plan but then struggle to gain White House approval, even as the problem escalates and Republicans step up their criticism.
Frustration is also mounting, especially among those on the front lines.
“Everything seems to influence each other,” a Homeland Security official told CNN. “Things are changing. People change their minds. They lose a battle, and they do this instead.
“I think they’re at the point where it’s Hail Mary after Hail Mary,” the official added.
As border arrests remain high, authorities grapple with how to stem the flow of migrants, leading to a constant brainstorming, including the treatment of migrants further from the border.
“Domestic assistance and community support are topics the White House only speaks seriously about when encounter rates go up,” another Homeland Security official told CNN, adding that other significant policy changes are not forthcoming. not expected before the midterm elections.
The process is often bogged down by back and forth between the White House and DHS. The department, under pressure to ease the situation on the US-Mexico border, makes proposals to the White House, which in turn requests additional information, stoking frustrations between the two, sources told CNN. Disagreements and questions over policy, including domestic treatment, are also bubbling among DHS officials.
“These are areas we have worked on together,” said a source familiar with the internal discussions, adding that there may be differing opinions between the agencies as well as within them.
“There are always differences of opinion to manage,” the source added.
And last week, an important plan came to fruition: The administration announced a humanitarian parole program for Venezuelan migrants while expanding the use of the controversial Trump-era emergency border restriction.
“Encouraging robust debate, hearing different ideas and gaining a lot of expertise before making policy decisions that impact millions of lives is a feature, not a bug,” said House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan. White, in a press release. “And it’s through this smart, deliberative and collaborative approach that we’ve seen significant progress in rebuilding the immigration system that the previous administration gutted.”
A DHS spokesperson defended the administration’s response to what it called a “broken and dismantled immigration system” inherited from the Trump administration.
“The administration has effectively managed unprecedented numbers of non-citizens seeking entry to the United States, interdicted more drugs, and disrupted more smuggling operations than ever before, while reversing cruel and harmful US policies. previous administration,” the spokesperson said.
Immigration was one of the first issues Biden faced when a wave of unaccompanied minors caught the administration off guard in the first months of his presidency. That crisis, officials said, along with the growing number of migrants at the border continue to strain the administration’s immigration program.
“The paralysis at the border has impacted their entire program,” said a source close to the White House.
Republican governors, meanwhile, have sent migrants to Democratic-run cities as an affront to Democrats and the White House — bringing the issue of immigration to the forefront of national discussions and drawing heavy criticism from the government. from immigrant advocates, city officials and the Biden administration.
Immigrant advocates and Democrats have also criticized the administration for its increased focus on law enforcement and, more recently, for turning away thousands of Venezuelan migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border under Title 42 of the Trump era.
“Expanding Title 42 to now include Venezuelans adds salt to an open wound while further eroding our asylum system that President Biden promised to restore,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in a statement. communicated.
Others include reopening ports of entry to asylum seekers in an orderly fashion using, for example, a Customs and Border Protection enforcement and opening centers that house several federal agencies to process migrants. options that have been floating around for months, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
The White House has received information from DHS about plans for joint treatment centers, the source familiar with the internal discussions told CNN, describing it as the normal course of business.
“You get an appropriation from Congress, you work to meet the directions of that appropriation in a way that also aligns with the priorities that the Secretary of Homeland Security has set, probably or somehow in coordination with the White House,” the source said. .
Other policies have advanced, such as a regulation that allows asylum officers to hear and decide asylum claims — cases that are typically assigned to immigration judges — when migrants show up at the border. southern United States and an immigration court role dedicated to migrant families. Both policies were set out in an immigration plan released by the White House last year.
Concerns about rising border arrests are partly based on mass movements across the Western Hemisphere, where thousands of migrants, especially Venezuelans, are fleeing deteriorating conditions.
Poor economic conditions, food shortages and limited access to health care, for example, are increasingly pushing Venezuelans to leave, posing an urgent challenge for the Biden administration. More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country, equaling Ukraine in number of displaced people and surpassing Syria, according to the United Nations.
In recent weeks, about 1,000 Venezuelans have been apprehended daily along the US-Mexico border, according to a Homeland Security official. By comparison, just under 1,000 Venezuelans arrived at the US southern border during the entire month of February 2021, according to US government data.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reiterated last week that Venezuelan migrants should not cross the border illegally, citing the humanitarian parole program instead.
“These actions make it clear that there is a legal and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and legal entry is the only way,” he said in a statement. “Those who attempt to illegally cross the southern border into the United States will be returned to Mexico and will no longer be eligible for this process in the future.”
Administration officials have also worked closely with countries in the Western Hemisphere to try to manage the northward migration flow and put in place protections closer to migrants’ countries of origin.
But the myriad of federal considerations and agencies involved in immigration often results in an arduous decision-making process.
“A big challenge for this issue is that it rests on the cracks in a whole set of structures in the White House,” said a former Obama administration official. “It’s a very complicated process and it’s all just about managing the logistics of moving people. Not to mention expanding alternative routes for people to access relief.
This has become exacerbated by the politically charged environment and the focus on short-term crisis resolution.
“A lot of the focus, and a lot of the public focus, is on the short-term emergency and how do you handle the movement of people,” said Cecilia Munoz, former director of the Policy Council. interior of the White House under President Barack Obama, noting that Congress has also failed to provide new tools to the government.
“Each decision is heavy because the Republicans have made it so clear that they intend to pay for the situation politically. No decision relates solely to the merits of the proposed action. All of this has political resonance,” Munoz said.