A mob of migrants chanting “Biden, Biden” tried to rush across a border bridge into Texas late last month, according to local news accounts that said they’d been told a false rumor that they’d be allowed to enter.
Border officials said they’re already seeing an uptick in activity as would-be undocumented immigrants look to take advantage of more lax policies they’re expecting when President-elect Joseph R. Biden takes over later this month.
New migrant caravans are already massing for the trip north, Homeland Security officials said, and acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan delivered a stark warning on Friday, telling those planning to join that they’ll be rebuffed at the border no matter who’s in the White House.
“Migrant caravan groups will not be allowed to make their way north in violation of the sovereignty, standing public health orders, and immigration laws of the respective nations throughout the region,” he said in a statement aimed at “those considering joining” a caravan.
Mr. Morgan told reporters last week he couldn’t confirm the reports that the hundreds of migrants who tried to storm the Paso Del Norte Bridge from Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, were chanting Mr. Biden‘s name.
But he said migrants have told agents they expect a loosening of immigration controls, and they’re looking to take advantage.
“Is the rhetoric and the discussion of the potential new strategies impacting the flow? Unequivocally, yes. That we are hearing directly from those trying to enter illegally,” Mr. Morgan said.
Photos of the bridge incident showed Customs and Border Protection officers with riot shields standing behind traffic barriers and razor wire to block entry.
After several hours of a standoff, the crowd dispersed without breaching the line.
Mexican press said the group totaled hundreds of migrants, apparently Cubans, and they were demanding immediate asylum in the U.S. They complained that they weren’t getting enough support from Mexico while they were awaiting to enter the American side.
That suggests the migrants were part of the Trump Administration’s Migrant Protection Protocol, which for more than a year has allowed American authorities to send some migrants who attempted to enter the U.S. back across the border to wait in Mexico until their cases are scheduled in American immigration courts.
Even if they had crossed, it’s likely they would have been quickly turned around. The U.S. is operating under a coronavirus emergency order that allows most unauthorized migrants to be quickly expelled back across the border.
That’s helped tamp down on what otherwise would be surging illegal migration due to people trying to flee pandemic-stricken economies in Latin America, Mr. Morgan said.
As it is, preliminary December border numbers did show an uptick in illegal border jumpers. The rise was slight compared to November, but massive when compared to December 2019.
Panama, the key choke point on the route from South America north, reported a sizable wave of migrants that just left and is making its way toward the U.S., Mr. Morgan said.
“Caravans are already starting to form at greater numbers than we’ve seen in the past 10 months,” he said.
Mr. Biden and his campaign team last year had laid out a sweeping eradication of Trump immigration policies, many of which he said he’d pursue on his first day in office.
Among the ideas suggested by him or his team were increasing the number of refugees, lowering standards for asylum-seekers, cutting deportations, expanding sanctuary cities, releasing more migrants from detention and flexing executive powers to grant more deportation amnesties along the lines of the Obama-era DACA program for “Dreamers.”
One campaign document also suggested reversing some deportations and allowing people previously ousted to return, and offering undocumented immigrants access to Obamacare coverage.
Given those ideas, “it actually makes no sense for you not to come,” Mr. Morgan said.
But in recent days the Biden team has taken a less lenient line on illegal immigration, worrying that they might be inviting a new migrant surge.
“The last thing we need is to say we are going to stop immediately the, you know, the access to asylum the way it is being run now and end up with 2 million people on our border,” Mr. Biden said at a press conference in late December.
He said his goal is still to reverse the Trump policies, “but it requires getting a lot in place and requires getting the funding to get it in place, including just asylum judges, for example.”
He said his new time frame is “probably the next six months to put that in place.”
Mr. Morgan said that change of tone suggests the Biden team has been listening to his agency’s experts during the transition.
“Part of what’s been presented has made its way up through the chain and really has driven the new administration to back off,” Mr. Morgan told reporters.
But Todd Bensman, senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and author of an upcoming book on border infiltration by terrorists, wrote that migrants likely aren’t paying attention to “in-the-weeds political timing so much as big, broad and directional messages.”
Mr. Bensman last year visited Mexico‘s southern border and found Central American migrants already staging in Mexico to be on hand to make an attempt at the U.S. in case a Democrat won the White House.
“No matter how the arithmetic works out, a vast human reservoir is dammed up behind floodgates that will soon be under the control of a Biden administration,” Mr. Bensman wrote for week. “What the incident on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso showed most is that the Biden administration may well have to choose much sooner than expected between either the stick and status quo for a while, or the carrot and a mass migration crisis at the border.”
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