Republican Govs. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are already preparing to move immigrants north before the policy change, a political stunt by the Texas governor last summer to send immigrants to Democratic-led cities like New York and Washington.
“Cities are now facing federal government responsibility,” said Evan Dreyer, Denver’s deputy mayor. “We’re doing what we can, but we need more help than we’re getting right now.”
At midnight, the Biden administration scrapped a Trump-authored policy known as Title 42 that had allowed officials to turn people back at the border for years on public health grounds. Biden has faced criticism from the right and the left over his immigration approach: Republicans have blasted the president for being too weak at the border and Democrats have accused the administration of making it too difficult for people fleeing violent countries in Latin America to apply for asylum. .
Biden officials have said they are prepared for the expected surge. But on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas He cautioned that a change in policy does not mean the border is open. He blamed Congress for failing to act on the current situation and for allowing a “broken and outdated immigration system” to remain in place for two decades.
“Our overall approach is to create legal pathways for people to come to the United States and to impose severe consequences on those who choose not to use those pathways,” Mayorkas told a news conference.
He added that the coming days and weeks “will be very difficult”.
But outside Washington’s infighting, a more pressing concern for local leaders is where to put the new funding, with some cities taking drastic measures such as replacing police stations, churches and schools, and emergency shelters are already full.
In Philadelphia, the most recent busload of migrants arrived early Wednesday morning. The city has been preparing for months by adding shelter capacity and case management support through contracted providers. Since November, Philadelphia has received 800 asylum seekers and 26 buses.
“The situation remains stable, but we are preparing for the possibility of new arrivals and plan to continue to welcome people with dignity and respect,” said Sarah Peterson, director of communications for the city. “We are a proudly welcoming city; our diversity is our strength.
Denver has already seen an uptick in arrivals over the past several days. To prepare for what is expected to be a much larger and more sustained increase, city officials have reduced who is eligible to sleep in shelters. Denver limits asylum seekers to a 30-day stay in city facilities. Now, Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration will grant shelter only to asylum seekers with an Alien Registration Number, an identification tag issued by the federal government to non-citizens.
The end of Title 42 marks a major policy shift in how the Biden administration processes immigrants at the border, including the path to asylum. Under the new rules, immigrants seeking asylum who must first seek asylum and be denied asylum in another country before coming to the U.S. must use an app to schedule an appointment at the point of entry into the U.S.
To ease the strain on this side of the border, Biden officials are setting up processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia where people can apply before coming to the United States.
More than 1,500 US National Guard troops are deployed to the border to serve in administrative roles, not law enforcement.
Many mayors are frustrated by the lack of guidance from the Biden administration. In New York, Adams said his city “has been left without the support it needs to manage the crisis.”
“With a leadership vacuum, we are now forced to undertake our own decompression strategy,” he said in a statement last week.
That strategy involves sending more than 300 migrants to neighboring counties, which leaders have allayed concerns about their own ability to absorb them.
In El Paso, Mayor Oscar Leiser called for more guidance from the federal government, warning the city was facing “unknowns.” But he defended the White House as a good partner and said his team was working very closely with the administration.
Leiser, a Democrat, said between 10,000 and 12,000 migrants are waiting to enter the city in Juárez. El Paso is rehabilitating vacant schools to temporarily house asylum seekers.
Last year, it used charter buses to transport immigrants to major cities like Chicago and New York, reducing overcrowding throughout its shelter system. The city is poised to resume the process as thousands of migrants are expected to enter the country in the coming weeks, but has not said when it will resume.
“If we start getting 5 to 10,000 people a day, they’re not all coming to El Paso. They’re coming to the U.S.,” Leiser said. “Our job is to continue to help our asylum seekers get to their next destination.”
Joe Anuta and Danielle Muoio Dunn contributed reporting.