Biden move lifting COVID curbs on migrants at U.S. border has Democrats on defensive

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Migrants at an encampment where they live at the border as they wait for Title 42 to be lifted, in Reynosa

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Thursday pushed back against President Joe Biden’s lifting of a pandemic-related rule expelling immigrants seeking asylum, with others supportive of the policy saying the administration needed to do more work to prepare for a surge in migrants.

“I want to see the plan that the administration has to address this, as a lot of my colleagues do,” said Representative Pete Aguilar, the vice chairman of the 221-member House Democratic Caucus. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done.”

Biden has until May 23 to ensure federal agencies are prepared for a spike in immigrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico, where many have been forced to stay while awaiting action on their asylum claims.

Republicans, who aim to recapture control of one if not both chambers of Congress in the Nov. 8 elections, seized on the move, which Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said amounted to Democrats “supercharging their border crisis.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday said he would transport some of the migrants directly to Washington.

Former President Donald Trump imposed the ban, called the “Title 42” rule, in early 2020, which led to more than a million migrants and asylum-seekers being expelled. The Trump administration said at the time it would reduce coronavirus infections in the United States.

With apprehensions at the border already at high levels, there are estimates of those numbers more than doubling to around 18,000 per day, prompting a Republican outcry.

A handful of Democratic senators, most of them facing challenging re-election bids, proposed legislation delaying Biden’s move.

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Senators Maggie Hassan, Raphael Warnock, Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto want to stop the rule from being lifted. They are in re-election campaigns in New Hampshire, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, respectively.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who represents the Trump-loving state of West Virginia and who has challenged several Biden initiatives since last year, also has joined in.

Their stance, alongside solid Republican opposition, has jeopardized a $10 billion COVID-19 aid bill Biden urgently is seeking.

Representative Ruben Gallego said he and his fellow Democrats must shift constituents’ attention to the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which Republicans in Congress repeatedly have stymied.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

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