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US preps for possible surge in border crossings, as officials mull lifting COVID curbs

Migrants seeking asylum in the US, mostly from Venezuela, stand near the border fence while waiting to be processed by the US border patrol after crossing the border from Mexico at Yuma, Arizona, US, January 23, 2022. (Reuters photo)

The US Department of Homeland Security is preparing for the possibility of thousands of more migrants per day at the southern border if Title 42 is revoked.

As many as 18,000 migrants might arrive per day at the US-Mexico border in the coming weeks as the Biden administration weighs lifting Title 42, according to senior DHS officials.

Title 42, the controversial Trump administration policy, deports single adults under the auspices of a public health emergency. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention faces a deadline this week to renew, modify or terminate the health order.

"I think it's unclear what the impact of Title 42 potentially lifting in the coming days, weeks or months would be on migratory flows, but we need to be prepared for considering a potential contingency, which is that the lifting of Title 42 could increase flows and so that is definitely part of this planning process," one senior DHS official told reporters on Tuesday.

A strategic plan ABC News obtained shows the lifting of Title 42 will likely "cause a significant increase along all United States borders -- primarily along the Southwest border."

"The DHS Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) produced projections for post-Title 42 Southwest Border encounters describing low, medium, high, or very high encounter scenarios," the document says. "These scenarios underpin planning assumptions that generate requirements which in turn drive operational execution. Based on these projections the SBCC is currently planning for 6,000, 12,000 (high) and 18,000 (very high) encounters per day."

Health experts, immigrant rights advocates and leading Democrats assert that Title 42 unlawfully cuts off access to asylum and endangers migrants in Mexico. They also argue that scientific evidence does not support its stated goal of helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

They have criticized Biden for keeping Trump's most restrictive immigration policy in place in spite of pledges to roll it back.

Tensions between the Biden administration and immigration advocates have been increasing for months. Activists argue the Biden administration’s decisions are being driven largely by politics, pointing out that senior White House officials see the border as a potentially toxic issue for the Democratic Party.

An average of 5,892 migrants were apprehended along the southwest border each day in February, according to CBP data, showing a rise from 2021 when there was an average of 4,753 apprehensions per day for the calendar year.

"We are now seeing 40% of our monthly encounters coming from countries that are not Mexico, or the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. That is frankly unprecedented and something that is concerning not just to us, but to the government of Mexico and other countries in the region," one senior official told reporters, adding they are seeing an influx of Nicaraguan, Cuban and Venezuelan nationals.

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