By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Tuesday outlined its plan to tackle border security, pushing back against criticism that it is unprepared for a late-May deadline to lift COVID-19 restrictions that have blocked asylum seekers and other migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border since early 2020.
While the end of the restrictions were thrown into doubt this week by a federal court, the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden said it was still preparing for an increase in the already historic number of border crossings.
Republicans and some Democrats have lambasted Biden’s decision to terminate by May 23 the pandemic-era order known as Title 42, saying the Biden administration lacks an adequate plan. A judge in Louisiana on Monday said he intended to halt the termination of the order.
The administration said the government had been prepping for the order’s end since the fall of last year.
Many of the elements of a six-point plan presented on Tuesday had been announced before but the outline “memorializes” the administration’s ongoing efforts, a senior official who declined to be identified told reporters.
The DHS plan focuses on surging resources to the border, speeding up processing of migrants, increasing the use of fast-track deportations, building up capacity of aid groups, targeting smugglers, and seeking regional cooperation to deal with higher levels of migration.
With the Nov. 8 midterm congressional elections looming, Republicans have fiercely criticized Biden for reversing the restrictive policies of former Republican President Donald Trump. The number of migrants arrested at the border soared to 1.7 million last year and is set to climb higher, though Biden officials note many of those are repeat crossers.
U.S. border authorities encountered an average of 7,800 migrants per day at the border with Mexico over the past three weeks, compared with a historical average of 1,600 per day from 2014-2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in the plan.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s top border official, will testify before three U.S. congressional committees on Wednesday and Thursday as some Republicans have called for his resignation or impeachment for his approach to illegal immigration.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)