By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki fielded questions on Title 42 during Wednesday’s news briefing, where reporters pressed her on how the administration would respond to an even greater surge in illegal immigrants if the Trump-era policy is lifted.
“First I would say, (Title 42) is a health authority, not an immigration plan, or an immigration authority, and it’s not meant to be a replacement … so the determination of where we stand and to lift it was made by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said.
The Biden administration is facing increasing scrutiny from critics on both sides of the aisle who have raised concerns about the removal of Title 42. They argue that removing the policy will lead to an even larger spike in illegal immigration, which already is much higher than before President Joe Biden took office.
Title 42 is a Trump-era policy that allows border agents to quickly expel illegal immigrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into the country. The Biden administration announced the policy would lift May 23, but earlier this week, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Biden administration from removing the policy after several states sued.
Ms. Psaki pointed to a new plan that Department of Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas released this week that calls for increasing efforts to slow illegal immigration at the border.
“They have talked about the need for potentially more resources needed to make that happen,” Ms. Psaki said.
That plan included diverting resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a decision that has sparked controversy.
“This crisis has been enough of a burden on our country,” said Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas. “We cannot allow it to take away well-deserved resources from our veterans too.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that border agents encountered well over 200,000 illegal immigrants at the border in the month of March alone. That number does not include migrants that entered the U.S. undetected.
“In total, there were 221,303 encounters along the southwest land border in March, a 33% increase compared to February,” CBP said. “Of those, 28% involved individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months, compared to an average one-year re-encounter rate of 14 percent for FY2014-2019.”
CPB also confirmed critics concerns about an increase in illegal immigration if Title 42 enforcement is lifted.
“As a result of the CDC’s termination of its Title 42 public health order, we will likely face an increase in encounters above the current high levels,” CBP said. “There are a significant number of individuals who were unable to access the asylum system for the past two years, and who may decide that now is the time to come.”
Ms. Psaki took similar questions earlier this week, repeatedly deferring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s authority.
“So the president has never, never made a secret of the fact that he thinks immigration reform is necessary and that Title 42 was never a replacement for comprehensive immigration reform that would put in place smarter security, that would ensure there was an asylum processing system that worked,” Ms. Psaki said. “And that is something he would be eager to work with anyone on to get done.”
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.