Facing questions from House lawmakers on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas shifted blame to public health officials for the Biden administration's decision to end the Title 42 public health order limiting illegal immigration at the southern border.
Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Mayorkas said that DHS has no power over Title 42 and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention holds "exclusive jurisdiction" over the issue.
"It is based on their expert assessment of the public health needs of the American public, and they decide whether the Title 42 authority remains necessary as a public health imperative based on the public health data that they obtained and their expert decision based on it," Mayorkas said, according to the Washington Examiner. "Our responsibility in the Department of Homeland Security is to implement the Title 42 authority of the CDC at our border and to implement it effectively and judiciously according to the law."
The CDC's decision to end the Title 42 order on May 23 drew bipartisan opposition from lawmakers who raised concerns that it would lead to a surge of illegal immigration and crime at the border. The public health order requires migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait outside the country for their applications to be processed and grants DHS additional authority to deport migrants who do not comply.
The policy has been used to expel more than 1 million illegal immigrants at the southern border. DHS has predicted there will be as many as 18,000 additional border encounters per day once the order has lifted.
A federal court on Monday issued a temporary restraining order against the Biden administration preventing the CDC from ending Title 42. The court said the federal government must first reach an agreement with Republican-controlled border states before ending the policy.
While the Department of Justice will appeal the court's ruling, Politico reported Wednesday that administration officials intend to comply with the court order in the interim.
“If and when the court issues the TRO [temporary restraining order] the department is planning to comply with that order,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Mayorkas said that the DHS is preparing to receive a surge of migrants once Title 42 is lifted.
"We expect migration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants. We will continue to enforce our immigration laws," he told lawmakers.
"After Title 42 is lifted, non-citizens will be processed pursuant to Title 8, which provides that individuals who cross the border without legal authorization are processed for removal and if unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States, promptly removed from the country," he continued.
The secretary outlined "six pillars" of the DHS plan to "prepare for and manage the rise of non-citizen encounters." The DHS will attempt to increase the number of resources at the border, in terms of personnel and equipment; process migrants quickly and efficiently to reduce strain; enforce the law against criminal migrants; partner with local governments and NGOs for humanitarian aid; target and disrupt transnational criminal organizations and human smugglers; and work with foreign governments to deter irregular migration in south and central America before it reaches the U.S.