Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is attempting his third immigration policy reset in just nine months, announcing new troop deployments to the border and faster deportation of families, coupled with an expanded amnesty for hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and more generous work permits to other illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The rollout comes as he faces down yet another wave of unprecedented border chaos, with Border Patrol agents reportedly arresting nearly 7,000 migrants a day in September.
The numbers were punctuated by images out of Eagle Pass, a small town on the Rio Grande in Texas that’s seen thousands of migrants swamp its shores this week, camping out under a bridge and daring the government to deport them.
Homeland Security responded to the Eagle Pass dilemma by shutting down lanes at the official border crossing and shifting personnel to deal with the squatting migrants.
More broadly, the department requested 800 active-duty troops from the Defense Department and vowed to expand a speedy deportation program for illegal immigrant families as get-tough measures aimed at deterring new arrivals.
Those sticks, however, were matched with a new crop of carrots for migrants that have already made it to the U.S. Mr. Mayorkas expanded his grant of Temporary Protected Status — a deportation amnesty — to nearly 500,000 more migrants from Venezuela, most of them unauthorized immigrants who arrived on President Biden’s watch.
Mr. Mayorkas also announced expanded work permits for other unauthorized migrants already here, saying he wants to speed up processing to get them into the labor force faster. He also said permits will be good for up to five years, meaning they’ll have status far beyond the 2024 presidential election.
It’s the third major update to immigration policy for Mr. Mayorkas this year, each time seeking to head off a renewed surge of migrants, following previous attempts in January and May.
Each time, Mr. Mayorkas and his aides took a victory lap, pointing to dips in illegal border crossings as proof he’d hit on some answers. And each time, after a brief decline, the numbers surged upward again.
Rob Law, director of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute, said this latest reset won’t fare any better.
“For an administration that insists the border is secure, it is curious that they keep introducing new policies,” he said. “The truth is their strategy is an abject failure because there is no deterrence or accountability for unlawful entry.”
Fox News reported that the Border Patrol caught 10,000 migrants on Wednesday alone, and CBS News reported that the daily average in September is 6,900. That’s close to the record daily average of about 7,200 in December, just before one of Mr. Mayorkas’s previous pivots.
In January, he announced a program aimed at trying to convince some of those illegal entrants to schedule their arrivals at ports of entry.
The result was a drop in arrest rates in January and February. March and April saw the numbers tick up again, sparking Mr. Mayorkas’s changes in May that were timed to the end of the Title 42 pandemic border policy. Illegal crossing rates again dropped, before surging back to today’s near-record rates.
Mr. Mayorkas’s latest round of changes includes more capacity for CBP to hold migrants at the border, and an expansion of the Family Expedited Removal Management program, which is aimed at trying to deport families who jump the border within 30 days.
Eight hundred active-duty troops will join 2,500 National Guard members already deployed by state governors. Homeland Security said the reinforcements will be used for support and logistics activities, taking over for CBP agents and officers who can now be reassigned back into the field.
On the other side of the equation, Mr. Mayorkas rewarded Venezuelans with TPS status. He said the action applies to 242,700 Venezuelans already under protection, and he extended TPS to another 472,000 Venezuelans who have arrived since March 2021.
TPS grants them an 18-month stay of deportation and, perhaps more important to the migrants, it entitles them to work permits.
TPS is used in cases where a home country has suffered a natural disaster, war or political unrest and it would be dangerous to the migrants, and to the home country itself, to force people to return.
Venezuela has been in political turmoil for years.
Mr. Mayorkas issued a statement saying the new amnesty applies to migrants who made it into the U.S. before July 31.
He did not say why he chose that cutoff date, but it does rule out the Venezuelans streaming into the U.S. right now, and the thousands more who are believed to be en route through Central America.
Mr. Mayorkas did not comment on the other measures.
His search for border answers is particularly striking given the regime he inherited from the Trump administration, which saw illegal border crossings drop to 40-year lows and reduced catch-and-release to almost zero through a series of get-tough policies.
The Biden administration called those policies cruel and dismantled them, but has since struggled to create its own effective plans.
Immigrant rights advocates on Thursday complained about the stricter elements in Mr. Mayorkas’s latest plan, but celebrated the expanded work permits and the deportation amnesty for Venezuelans.
“We must not continue to rely on deadly enforcement practices that tear families apart and harm vulnerable communities,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of Las Immigrant Advocacy Center. “We urge the Biden administration to reconsider these harmful measures.”
She said the work permits and the expanded TPS for Venezuelans “will provide much-needed stability to newly arrived migrants.”
But Mr. Law, who served as a senior official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Trump administration, said the TPS grant was “laundering” the illegal immigrants the Biden administration had previously welcomed using legally iffy “parole” powers.
He also challenged the validity of expanding work permits.
“Five-year work permits make a mockery of the enforcement apparatus and they are laying the foundation to prevent deportations when the Biden administration is gone in 2025,” Mr. Law said.