With the southern border being pounded by a new wave of illegal immigrants, Homeland Security announced a new deployment of 800 active-duty troops to the border and said it will expand a speedy deportation program to try to deter the surge of families.
But Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also announced a new deportation amnesty for more than 700,000 Venezuelans, and said he’s pushing to move faster to get work permits into the hands of unauthorized migrants caught and released by his department.
He announced some of those work permits will now be good for up to five years, meaning illegal immigrants approved by Homeland Security will be able to work well into the next administration. The permits used to be good for two years.
The approach seems to be to take a tough line on those trying to reach the U.S., but a lenient approach to those who have already snuck in.
And the announcements came as the border has once again slipped into chaos, puncturing Mr. Mayorkas’s summertime claims that he had finally solved the unprecedented surge of people.
The latest grim images came from Eagle Pass, Texas, where thousands of migrants have rushed the border town in the last few days, forcing the city to declare a disaster and Customs and Border Protection to shut down some of its operations in welcoming legal travelers and instead assign them to watch the illegal immigrants.
Homeland Security said it’s gotten the Defense Department to commit 800 troops to the border. They will be assigned to logistics and support tasks, so that Border Patrol agents can get back into the field. They join 2,500 National Guard troops already on the border.
Deploying the troops is a major step backward for the administration, which had insisted things were trending in the right direction after the end of the Title 42 pandemic border policy in May and the subsequent drop in illegal entries.
That lull lasted less than two months.
CBP has not yet released Border numbers for August but they are reportedly trending back toward record numbers of unauthorized crossings.
Many of those jumping the border have come from Venezuela, and Mr. Mayorkas rewarded them with a new deportation amnesty.
Known officially as Temporary Protected Status, it applies to 242,700 Venezuelans already under protection, and he extended TPS to another 472,000 Venezuelans who have arrived since March 2021. That number — equivalent to a midsized American city — is just one nationality.
TPS grants them an 18-month stay of deportation and, perhaps more important to the migrants, 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 that are believed to be en route through Central America.
Mr. Mayorkas did not make a statement about the other measures.
Wednesday’s announcements are the latest in a series of policy resets by Mr. Mayorkas, who after erasing the get-tough policies of the Trump administration has struggled to get a handle on the record flows that resulted.
Earlier resets in January and May had only short-term results.
This latest round includes the new troop deployment, 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.
Begun in May, it has ousted just 1,600 families. The department said it will “scale up significantly.” By contrast, roughly 250,000 illegal immigrants traveling as families jumped the border in May, June and July.
Those sticks were matched with carrots, including expanded work permits for unauthorized migrants already here.
The department cast the 5-year work permits as a way to reduce the workload on employees, freeing them up so they can speed issuing of work permits to new arrivals.
But Rob Law, director of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute, said it’s a way to cement illegal immigrants’ status.
“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,” said Mr. Law, who served as a senior official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Trump administration.
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