"To make an end is to make a beginning," wrote conservative poet T.S. Eliot, and the U.S. Congress is (belatedly) realizing how true that is. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are mobilizing plans to terminate on May 23 a pandemic-era measure empowering border agents to turn migrants away, known as Title 42, members of Congress are exploring bipartisan efforts to stop them. The question many are asking is, after we end Title 42, what happens next?
The Biden administration currently plans to replace Title 42 with nothing. Neither the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the border, nor the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the CDC and would provide humanitarian assistance to incoming migrants, have developed any plan for handling increased numbers of migrants. This willful unpreparedness comes despite border patrol agents expecting "to get wrecked" by a "surge on top of a surge" of border crossings, up from 7,000 to 18,000 migrants a day. As many as 500,000 persons could cross the border in as few as four weeks.
In response to this looming, avoidable disaster, at least 11 Democrats, in both the House and Senate, have introduced or signed onto bipartisan legislation requiring DHS and HHS to create a plan for dealing with expected surge of migrants and submit it to Congress within 30 days, while keeping Title 42 in place. "The Biden administration was wrong to set an end date for Title 42 without a comprehensive plan in place," argued Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). Representative Jared Golden (D-Maine) added, "Ending these Title 42 authorities without a plan in place to manage the resulting influx of migrants is irresponsible and could create crisis conditions that would be dangerous for both migrants coming to America and Americans themselves."
Republicans were already making this point. Some Democrats have even used similar rhetoric to Republicans, such as South Texas Representative Henry Cuellar, "we all believe in immigration reform, but we don't want chaos at the border. We want law and order at the border." Perhaps, now that Democrats are chiming in their agreement, the administration will listen to reason.
But don't hold your breath. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted there was "a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border." But crafting an effective policy requires government officials to do more than name it and claim it. "If there's a strategy in place, we haven't seen it," responded Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council. "The only thing this administration is going to be able to do is just release people on a mass scale. That's it. That's all they can do."
Now in its second year, the Biden administration shows no indication that it has learned the lessons of its first. Americans were scandalized last September with videos of about 15,000 migrants crowded together under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, or wading back and forth across the border to buy supplies in Mexico. There were two simple problems in Del Rio. First, with so many immigrants arriving in such a short time (a little over a week), border patrol agents' ability to process them was completely overwhelmed. Second, the sheer number of immigrants overwhelmed the infrastructure of the small border town (population: 35,000). There weren't enough beds, roofs, or grocery stores to go around.
The Biden administration proposes to create a crisis several times worse. While the 18,000 migrants per day would likely not all cross at the same point, they would likely concentrate around several crossing sites, overwhelming local infrastructure and border patrol agents assigned to that sector in just the same way. And while agents might be equipped to (eventually) process thousands, even more will continue crossing, leaving border personnel hopelessly behind. Thousands of migrants will be left stranded in remote locations, with sparse access to adequate food, water, and shelter. How is that a compassionate policy?
The Bible exhorts Christians to take a long view, both in this life and into eternity. For instance, Proverbs 13:22 says, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous." When considering public policy, this means we must think more than one step ahead. Ending one policy only begins something new; replacing a less-than-ideal situation with an unmitigated disaster is irresponsible. So, the Biden administration must answer the question, if Title 42 is ended, what comes next?