FIRST ON FOX: Former Homeland Security officials who served during the Trump administration are warning of dire consequences if the Biden administration ends a Trump-era public health rule that allows the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They’re not prepared for it, I think they’re going to do it, because they want an open borders agenda, but it’s going to be catastrophic," former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Thomas Homan told Fox News. "The numbers I think are going to be very, very high."
The Trump administration enacted Title 42 public health protections in March 2020 in response to the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants, often within minutes and without detention, at the border.
The Biden administration has kept the authority in place, despite pressure and legal action from liberal activists, although it has refused to apply it to unaccompanied children. Additionally, it has not been applying it to some migrant families, due to Mexico’s refusal to take back families with children under seven.
However, of the enormous 180,000 migrant encounters in May, 112,000 of those were turned back due to Title 42 -- meaning that ending the authority would have significant consequences.
Biden's DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said the agency is listening to the experts and the decision on when to repeal it for migrant families and single adults. But Axios reported that the administration is planning to end Title 42 for migrant families as early as the end of the month.
A White House official told the outlet that it's "a public health decision that will be made ultimately on those grounds." The New York Times reported that Title 42 could also be lifted for single adults in the summer. The Times said that the administration has considered plans to deal with a presumed surge in numbers entering the U.S. including by putting migrants into alternatives to detention facilities and having them wear ankle bracelets or by putting more families in expedited removal.
Trump-era officials say that, with the pandemic still ongoing, and with the removal of other policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the asylum cooperative agreements (ACA)s and other protections, ending Title 42 will lead to a massive amount of migrants entering the U.S., more than the amount allowed in already.
"It doesn't really matter whether it’s this month or early in August, the timing is awful," former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News. "We are in the midst of a historic crisis on that border, and instead of trying to implement measures that try and solve that issue, they’re doing exactly the opposite."
"They are more worried about individuals trying to seek asylum than they are about keeping American communities safe is what it feels like to me," he said.
Wolf pointed also to the removal not only of MPP and the ACAs, but other Trump-era programs that fast-tracked deportations like the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP).
"They've taken programs away such as ACAs, MPP, HARP and PACR and all the enforcement mechanisms we have and they haven't replaced them with anything, and so I think the only way to read that is they’re going to do catch and release because they believe that's the right way to do it," he said.
He warned that the number of actual migrant encounters may dip, as those making multiple attempts to enter but who are currently being turned back via Title 42 will drop, but the number of migrants being released into the interior could go up.
"A portion of them, single adults from Mexico they'll return under [expedited removal], but what do they do with the thousands and tens of thousands of folks? I don't know of any other program they have in place right now other than to process them and release them," he said.
Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan said that ending Title 42 would encourage even more migrants to try their chances at getting into the U.S. once a key entry barrier is scrapped.
"It’s another action that I think sends what is already a crystal clear message to the cartels, smugglers and the entire world...that says our borders are open and we’re going to continue to take actions to ensure that our borders are open," Morgan said.
Officials also noted that the pandemic is not fully over, with a vaccination push ongoing, restrictions still in place and also many of the countries from which migrants are coming having much lower vaccination rates and higher infection rates in many cases.
"Mexico is not where we’re at, the Northern Triangle countries aren’t where we at, there are multiple countries in Western Hemisphere that are not where America is at when it comes to vaccines and dealing with COVID, but they’re still going to open it up to people in these countries to come from, to transverse through to get to our country, and allow them in -- it’s absolutely endangering American lives and once again shows this administration puts America last and everyone else first," Morgan said.
Homan, the former ICE director who served in positions during both the Trump and Obama administrations, warned that ICE’s detention ability had been stripped by the Biden administration as well.
"The plan must be to release them because ICE doesn’t have the detention capacity to handle such a surge, which I don’t think is by accident -- I think it is by design," he said.
He also warned that new, more restrictive ICE guidance means that even after an immigration process for 2-3 years, it is unlikely that those found to have an invalid asylum claim will be removed.
"This administration has taken a position where it is no longer illegal to be here illegally," he said.