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U.S. anticipates an increase in asylum-seekers as Title 42 is set to end

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Title 42 is the pandemic-era rule the federal government has been using to reject asylum seekers without hearings, and it's set to end on May 11. A day after that, the flow of migrants into the U.S. is expected to reach as many as 10,000 people a day. President Biden is sending troops to the Mexican border to help manage the situation, and that's drawing criticism from all sides. The NPR Politics Podcast took this issue on today. Here are NPR correspondents Asma Khalid, Mara Liasson and Franco Ordoñez, who says this is going to be a huge challenge for the White House, and the White House knows it.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: They are scrambling to try to get control of the situation. That's why they've been making all these policy moves, sending the National Guard there. That's in order to kind of free up the border agents to do their law enforcement. And the United States reached a deal with Mexico where Mexico announced that they agreed to continue taking migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua when they're deported. So the administration is working very, very hard to try to get control of a situation that is going to be somewhat uncontrollable because there are thousands and thousands of migrants all waiting along the border right now for May 11 to happen.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: That's actually what I wanted to ask you about. If you could help us connect the dots as to why this pandemic rule is expected to lead to such a large increase of people at the southern border.

ORDOÑEZ: Title 42 is a public health rule. It allows the government to say, no, you cannot come to the United States even if you're seeking asylum. So lifting that basically shifts things back to the way it was. So if a migrant comes to the border and says that they have a credible fear of returning for religious reasons, political persecution reasons, they have the right to have a hearing to make their case.

KHALID: There seems to be, Mara, a lot of public blowback, certainly from Republicans, as to how the administration has been handling this situation leading up to these, you know, few weeks that we've been seeing of the lifting of Title 42. We've been hearing constant criticism from Republicans. This is an issue that it seems has been particularly challenging for the administration.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This is a huge problem for the administration politically. Republicans consider immigration one of their top issues. There's constant focus on what they say is chaos at the border. And the White House, when you ask them about this - the politics of this - they say it doesn't really matter to their voters and the people that they need to get. It's mostly a Republican issue. And that might be true, but the picture of chaos anywhere - whether it's withdrawal from Afghanistan, people at the border - that hurts the incumbent.

KHALID: Biden is being criticized by the right, but also by the left, on this issue of immigration. And, you know, I wonder if either one of you sees the way in which he has tried to deal with this situation as an indication that he is trying to tack to the middle, and will we expect to see more of that? And how does he really navigate the situation? I mean, I won't even say just from the left. Like, I saw a statement that - I think it was Senator Bob Menendez put out - criticizing him for sending additional troops to the border. I mean, this is a very challenging issue for him to navigate.

LIASSON: Yeah. It's super challenging. He has his own party pushing him for a more, quote, "humane immigration policy." He's got the Republicans who are pushing this chaos-at-the-border message. But then there's the larger question, which is that the United States has a labor shortage. Immigration is one of the only ways to solve it. And the problem of allowing high-scale immigration, just legal immigration in general, has been ignored by Congress for years and years.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I would just add that, I mean, you can see the challenges that Biden faces here. You know, in many ways, you know, in the lawsuits that are being filed against him - the right is kind of filing lawsuits and criticizing Biden for, you know, quote-unquote, "open borders." Regardless of what they do, they're always going to call it open borders. And on the left, when the administration does take action - for example, one of the rules is to prevent migrants who do not enter along legal ports of entry to prevent them from taking asylum - advocates are calling that a transit ban and saying that looks just like the Trump administration. So they're also threatening lawsuits.

I mean, there's - in both directions, the administration is having, you know, being criticized. That said, President Biden is not facing a challenge from the left. He's got a big challenge from the right, and immigration is one of the most vulnerable spots.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez, Mara Liasson and Asma Khalid. For more, listen to the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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