Could Biden really ‘shut down’ the border?

Current and former officials at the Department of Homeland Security are expressing concern over President Joe Biden’s assertion this weekend that he wants the authority to “shut down” the border.

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Saturday, Biden said Democrats and Republicans are “making real progress” on a bill that would include new border security measures.

“It would also give me, as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it can get back under control,” Biden said at South Carolina’s “First in the Nation” dinner. “If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.”

His remarks echoed a statement he released Friday evening, in which he said he would shut down the border if needed “the day I sign the bill into law.”

Two sources familiar with the negotiations said the bill under consideration would force DHS to shut down the border if the daily average for migrant encounters reaches 5,000 over a seven-day period or if the number of crossings in a single day hits 8,500.

During a shutdown, 1,400 undocumented migrants per day would be allowed to cross legally through ports of entry, but the restrictions would not lift until the number of migrant encounters decreased below 75% of the number that triggered the closure and then stayed below 75% for two weeks. That level of restriction could keep the border closed for months, the sources said.

Currently, Border Patrol agents apprehend and process migrants who cross the southern border, releasing roughly 85% of them into the U.S. with dates to appear before an immigration judge to determine whether they receive asylum or are to be deported back to their home countries. Mexico has agreed to take back 30,000 Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Haitian and Cuban migrants per month, but many times that number are crossing into the U.S. from those countries.

Two former and two current DHS officials say that in order to shut down the border and block asylum-seekers, the U.S. would need the cooperation of Mexico to take back far more migrants.

An administration official pushed back on the idea that closing the border would cause chaos.

“As the president said, Congress should pass a bipartisan agreement that delivers new enforcement tools and additional resources to secure the border. Those additional resources will be critical to our capabilities, and that is why the president asked for them in his supplemental,” the administration official said.

One of the two former officials said Biden is sending a political message but not one that is based in logistical reality.

“You can’t shove back 8,000 migrants a day without the Mexicans’ approval,” the former official said. “What you would create is frantic surges in the weakened parts of the border.”

Vulnerable parts of the border have previously included remote areas of Arizona, such as Lukeville, and Del Rio, Texas, where over 10,000 Haitians massed in 2021, overwhelming the resources of Border Patrol.

Another former official said some Customs and Border Protection rank-and-file agents and officers are upset that Biden would talk about “shutting down” the border because it could lead to more turmoil and not a solution.

“It seems to be strictly political,” the second former official said. “CBP and Border Patrol are pretty upset at this point.”

The two current officials confirmed there is some concern about the proposal and pointed to the fact that similar measures used during Title 42, the Covid policy that was meant to keep asylum-seekers from crossing, held for only so long.

A spokesperson for the Mexican government did not respond to a request for comment. DHS also did not respond to a request for comment.

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