May 26, 2024

Senior Administration Officials on Additional Regional Migration Management Measures the United States Will Implement Together with Regional Partners when Title 42 Public Health Order Lifts

Senior Administration Officials on Additional Regional Migration Management Measures the United States Will Implement Together with Regional Partners when Title 42 Public Health Order Lifts

MODERATOR:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to this evening’s background call.  Today’s call will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials, and embargoed until 8:00 a.m.

For your information only and not for reporting, today’s speakers are: [Senior Administration Official One], who will be referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Number One; [Senior Administration Official Two], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Number Two; [Senior Administration Official Three], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Number Three; [Senior Administration Official Four], referred to in the transcript as Senior Administration Official Number Four; and on hand as well to answer questions, [Senior Administration Official Five].

Our speakers will start by giving brief opening remarks, and then we’ll turn it over to your questions.  And with that, I’d like to turn the floor over to [Senior Administration Official One].  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you.  As you know, Title 42 public health order will end on May 11th with the lifting of the public health emergency.  The Biden-Harris administration is implementing a comprehensive, multi-agency, multi-country plan rooted in enforcement, deterrence, and diplomacy to humanely manage the border when Title 42 lifts.

When we speak about enforcement, we’re talking about surging resources to the border for fast and fair processing; surging personnel; erecting new facilities; putting in place more efficient processes within the authorities we have.

When we talk about deterrence, we mean meaningful consequences for individuals who do not have a lawful basis to remain in the United States; humane migration management throughout the region; and putting in place lawful pathways for individuals who seek to come to the United States or to Canada, Spain, or other countries so that they can do so from their country of origin or countries along the migratory route.  They can access protection, legal pathways, parole, temporary work, family reunification, and do not need to put their lives into the hands of smugglers but, rather, can access those pathways from where they are.

And when we speak about diplomacy, we are referring to the regional partnerships that we have brokered to really put in place a sense of shared responsibility, regional responsibility to address what really is a regional phenomenon.  And the foundations of this are enshrined in the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection that President Biden, along with 20 regional leaders, announced on the margins of the Summit of the Americas last June.

We are working within a legal framework that is severely outdated and broken.  It was crafted in the mid-’90s for an entirely different context at our southern border altogether.  We are also operating with limited resources inadequate to address the moment at hand.  We have asked Congress for an updated framework.  We have asked Congress as well for additional resources.  Specifically, we asked Congress for $4.9 billion for border security and management, and Congress only gave us half of that.

What’s more, when we implemented measures that brought unlawful immigration down significantly, speaking specifically about a parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans that saw numbers of irregular crossings of those four nationalities decline by 97 percent, when we implemented those measures and they were demonstrating impact, 20 states filed a federal lawsuit to block these measures, which is another instance of Republican elected officials erecting obstacles to meaningful solutions that we put in place.

With that, I will turn it over to my colleague from DHS.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Two].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Thank you very much, [Senior Administration Official One], and thanks, everybody, for participating on this call.  So we have been at DHS, along with our interagency partners, preparing for the lifting of Title 42, the public health emergency measures at the border, for well over a year now.  And we have been doing this in a number of ways that I’ll walk through very quickly.

[Senior Administration Official One] mentioned some of the policy steps we have taken in order to impose new consequences on those who cross the border unlawfully, but also incentivize them to use safe, orderly, and legal pathways to come to the U.S. without having to put their lives in the hands of drug cartels and smugglers.  We have overseen, as part of this effort, a historic expansion in lawful pathways to the U.S., and we referenced the Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela parole process, which has admitted more than 100,000 individuals in a safe, orderly way to the country.

We have recently announced our intent to expand the family reunification parole programs to Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras as well as Colombia.  And my colleagues from State will talk about the Regional Processing Centers that we are establishing to provide intending migrants with new pathways.

We have, however, coupled this with a robust set of consequences for noncitizens who, despite having these options available to them, continue to cross unlawfully at the border.  That includes, as [Senior Administration Official One] noted, our return to Mexico of noncitizens from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela, returns that will for the first time in the history of our two countries continue to take place under Title 8 processing starting on Thursday.  It also includes the circumvention of lawful pathways rule that we will be posting for public inspection tomorrow morning, and that rule will place significant conditions on asylum eligibility for individuals who do not take advantage of these robust lawful pathways that we have established, who do not schedule their safe and orderly presentation at the border using our CBP One mobile application, and who do not claim asylum in one of the countries that they travel through.

We are also significantly expanding, starting on Thursday, our use of expedited removal at the border.  This is our traditional Title 8 consequence for individuals who are encountered between ports of entry.  We have spent much of the last year building out additional interview rooms and adding phone lines to both CBP and ICE facilities in order to facilitate the interviews that are required under the expedited removal process with asylum officers.  We have retrained and will be ready to deploy up to 1,000 asylum officers to handle credible fear interviews at the border, again starting this Thursday.

In addition to these measures that are intended, again, to disincentivize unlawful entries and incentivize the use of safe and orderly pathways, we have also been deploying record numbers of personnel, infrastructure, and resources to the border in order to prepare for what we have known for some time would be a challenging few weeks.  We have more than 24,000 law  enforcement personnel deployed to the border along with another 1,100 new Border Patrol processing coordinators, which is double the number we had last year.  We have deployed hundreds of additional law enforcement personnel from other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, thousands of contract personnel have been hired over the last year and a half, and we have 400 volunteers who have put their hands up to help our frontline personnel manage what will be challenging conditions in some of our facilities.

I mentioned that we have a thousand trained USCI officers who are ready to conduct credible fear interviews at the border, and of course we have leveraged a robust medical services contract to deploy 1,400 medical and support staff to the border.  This is in addition to having increased our capacity to hold noncitizens in Border Patrol facilities by more than 7,000 beds over the last two years, and it is also in addition to having increased our repatriation flight capacity by more than 70 percent over the last year.

So we have really been tackling this with a whole-of-government approach that has leveraged, within the resources Congress has made available to us – which, as [Senior Administration Official One] noted, is not what we need; we received less than half of the funding that we requested for these preparations in the last budget – but we are committed to managing through this challenge and facing it with our partners, including our international partners, and I think you will see our – the Government of Mexico undertaking new enforcement actions over the next several days as well, which I think the State Department has referred to.

So thank you and with that, I will pass it over to [Senior Administration Official Three] from State.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Three].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Thank you so much, and thank you to everyone for joining today.  Look, I think it’s important to take note of the fact that this is not taking place in a vacuum.  In fact, the actions that have been described here are a continuation of an extended, sustained, multilateral effort to collaboratively manage migration in the region.  This is a really unprecedented moment in the Americas.  Twenty million people are displaced across the region, and the COVID-19 pandemic and political insecurity and climate change have exacerbated what was normally pushing people to migrate, which included already significant levels of violence and corruption and lack of economic opportunity.

From Chile to the U.S. southwest border, governments are dealing with historically high levels of irregular migration that strains their resources and the resources of communities along the migration path.  This is a really immense and evolving regional challenge that requires comprehensive and innovative regional solutions.  That’s why in 2021, in July of 2021, the United States launched a Root Causes Strategy and a Collaborative Migration Management Strategy aimed at dealing with irregular migration out of North and northern Central America.

By late 2021, it was very clear that there was irregular migration from well beyond Central America, and we saw that grow dramatically to include citizens from Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, and even countries outside the Americas.  To meet this new challenge, we ramped up our diplomacy across the region to pursue a collaborative solution, and in June 2022 at the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, President Biden and Secretary Blinken worked with partners across the region to address irregular migration across the hemisphere.  Twenty-one countries endorsed the L.A. Declaration on Migration and Protection.  It is our most ambitious effort to establish a hemispheric approach to this issue.  The Los Angeles Declaration underscores our shared regional responsibility and commitment to working collaboratively to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration management throughout the region.

And I mentioned this because it – the actions that we’re announcing now are consistent with those commitments, and as is our work to do this in concert with other governments.  As we engage partner governments in the leadup to the end of Title 42, we’ve identified new measures aimed at reducing irregular border crossings and expand legal pathways.  On April 27th, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas announced that the U.S. Government will stand up Regional Processing Centers in select locations in the Americas that will screen individuals to determine whether they may be eligible for lawful pathways to the United States.  Our goal is to quickly add these centers to the already broad set of legal pathways available to migrants seeking to travel to the United States.

So a little more detail on these centers.  The State Department, working with partners, plans to eventually open over a hundred Regional Processing Centers at key locations in the hemisphere.  In the coming days we will launch an online platform for individuals to make appointments to be able to visit a center near them – and in many cases within their home countries.  Over 140 federal personnel, including from DHS, USCIS, and State Department, as well as personnel from the International Organization on Migration and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are going to be deployed to support the activities at the centers, at these centers, which will serve to direct migrants to lawful pathways early in their journey, well before reaching the southern border.

The centers will facilitate a broad range of legal pathways, lawful pathways to the United States and eventually Canada and Spain as well.  Again, our goal is to add these centers to the set of legal pathways that already exist and that the administration has rolled out over the last two years.  As my colleagues made clear, individuals who unlawfully cross the U.S. border instead of pursuing these legal pathways will be subject to the consequences of their act and should not allow themselves to be fooled by smugglers.

And again, these activities take place within the context of broader U.S. Government efforts to address the economic, political, and social drivers behind migration.  The United States has provided nearly $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance in the Western Hemisphere just in Fiscal Year 2022, and we continue to help governments build the capacity and advocate for significantly expanded access to protection and lawful pathways for migration throughout the Americas.  We are grateful to have partners in the region who are committed to finding solutions that address the root causes over time and that manage migration in our region over the near term.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Four].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR:  Thank you so much.  To state it plainly, what the Biden-Harris administration is doing to expand legal pathways is at a scale that has never been done before, and what President Biden has done to mobilize a truly hemispheric-wide response is truly unmatched.  But let’s be honest:  There is far more that we could do if Congress would act.

I’ll just go through a few things that Republicans have done just in the last year.  They voted to take 2,000 Border Patrol agents off of federal payroll.  They voted to lift Title 42 overnight without a plan.  They opposed increased funding for border security.  And their colleagues in the states have tried to block measures that are achieving – achieving tremendous results, such as the parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.

Our hands are tied without Congress acting.  We’re operating under a framework that is decades old and not fit for purpose.  Even with those constraints, we have exercised incredible creativity and innovation to transform how migration is managed by creating consequences for irregular migration and expanding safe, lawful pathways.  And what we announced today we think will really make a difference.  We know the next couple days will be difficult, but we believe that the plan that we’re putting in place is sustainable and will really set an example for the rest of the world.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Operator, could you repeat instructions for joining the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, to ask a question please press 1 then 0 on your phone. Press 1 then 0 only one time, as entering it twice will remove you from the queue.  Once again, for your questions please press 1 then 0.  One moment for our first question.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Could we please go to Ted Hesson from Reuters?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) and what’s happening in the Darién Gap?  First of all, you mentioned the plan to open a hundred new centers.  Can you give us a timeframe for that and some locations?  And also what’s going on with the centers you’ve already announced?  When will they open and where will they be?  And also an update on the plan to stop migrants coming through the Darién, and what’s actually happening to do that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  This is [Senior Administration Official Three]; I’ll take that call – I’ll take that question.

So in terms of the timing, this is – we expect to have the process up and running in the next several days.  But to – as we prepare these things, we’re being careful to ensure that our partners are – that we’re having, conducting diplomatic discussions with our partners and protecting them as we have those private conversations, and as well as our conversations with the international organizations that are going to be central to this effort.  So we are continuing to work those details, but I’m quite certain that we will be – have additional updates in the next several days.

Again, in terms of the coverage that is also evolving but – we expect to have significant participation by countries where there is a significant presence of migrants who could take advantage of the new legal pathways available to them through those.

As a related matter, the work being conducted by Panama, Colombia, and the United States together in the Darién Gap is already having an impact by disrupting the activities of organized crime groups that are particularly active in that region in the transport of irregular migrants and that put them into harm’s way.  And we anticipate continuing those operations and intensifying them in the coming weeks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Could we please go to the line of Eric Martin from Bloomberg News?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) for doing this call.  We saw this morning the call between President Biden and President López Obrador of Mexico.  I was wondering if you could speak to any efforts that Mexico may have agreed to or that the U.S. has requested in terms of presence of Mexican security forces – the national guard or other forces – on Mexico’s northern border on the – obviously the Mexican side of the U.S. southern border.  And just in terms of the deterrence, any requests to Mexico in terms of how to participate either there or on the border, Mexico’s southern border, as well?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR:  I’m happy to take that question.  Yes, President Biden and President López Obrador did speak this morning.  As you know, they speak regularly and have a really great relationship.  They discussed migration, which is something that the U.S. and Mexico have a shared interest in reducing flows.  And they discussed some of the commitments that were made the week prior that was reflected in the joint statement where both countries committed to continue the successful joint initiatives for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans after May 11th.

As my colleague from DHS noted, Mexico has committed to continue to accept returns of – from those four nationalities under Title 8.  We also discussed our joint efforts in Central America.  We have a commitment – both of our countries – in addressing the root causes of migration.  As you noted, Mexico will be launching its own enforcement actions in southern Mexico.  And so they discussed all of those things as well as other areas of bilateral cooperation.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to the line of Alejandra Arredondo from EFE?

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you so much for doing this.  I have – I just want to have more clarification on the asylum ineligibility rule.  So I just want to know, for example, if somebody applies through CBP One app to get an appointment but also crossed through a third country, are they ineligible for to get asylum?  I just want to get more clarifications on what the specifics to that rule are, because it’s very complicated to get that message across.  Thank you so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure.  Thanks for that question.  So individuals who apply for admission and present through the CBP One application at the border are exempted from the rule, so they are free to claim asylum through the normal asylum process.  The rule only applies to individuals who arrive between ports of entry unlawfully or who present at a port of entry without scheduling their arrival at – through CBP One application.

So the rule applies to all individuals who, again, do not use one of the lawful pathways that we have established, including these parole processes, including the expanded refugee processing in the region, which we have announced a couple of weeks ago we will double this year and we’ll look to continue to grow next year.  And understanding that not everyone is eligible for these parole processes, the CBP One application will be available to individuals from any nationality who are in central or northern Mexico, and one of the announcements we made a couple weeks ago that we are highlighting again today is that we will be significantly increasing the number of appointments that are available through the CBP One app for migrants starting on Thursday, up to a thousand a day, and we may increase that over time depending on our operational capacity.  That number represents a significant increase over our pre-pandemic average of processing individuals at ports of entry who are inadmissible, which was in the low 300s.  So that is tripling the number of individuals who have been historically processed at ports of entry.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to Priscilla Alvarez from CNN?

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this call.  Staying on the asylum rule, after the public comment period over the last several weeks, were there any substantive changes to the regulation?

And then separately, we know that there have been – at least as of this morning – over 27,000 migrants in CBP custody.  Can you walk through what decompression measures you are taking, especially as the in-custody numbers have risen over the last several days?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  So the rule will post for public inspection tomorrow, and I can’t talk about the specifics of the changes that were made.  I will note that they were not major changes and that we did receive many thousands of comments that we have worked feverishly to address and respond to, and all of that will be available for public inspection early tomorrow.

In terms of the individuals in CBP custody, we have been, as I think you know, Priscilla, working closely with NGOs across the border and interior NGOs for more than a year to build capacity both to receive and transport migrants.  We have also expanded our transportation contracts.  So we have been moving some individuals laterally along the border to other parts of the border where there is more capacity.  We have been working with our NGO partners in order to try to have releases be conducted in the most safe and orderly means possible.

That said, we are encountering large numbers of noncitizens over the last few days.  We saw this in the lead-up to the potential lifting of Title 42 in May of last year and then again in December; we’re seeing it again right now.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to the line of Camilo Montoya from CBS News?

QUESTION:  Hi, everyone.  Thank you for doing this.  In January, when the administration unveiled the kind of prelude to the strategy, it got Mexico to commit to taking up to 30,000 Nicaraguans, Haitians, Cubans, and Venezuelans.  Does that numerical cap also apply to Title 8 removals of these nationalities once Title 42 lifts?

And can you also just talk about how you are planning to process Mexican migrants once Title 42 lifts?  Is voluntary return something that you’re considering expanding?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR:  I can take the first half and then I’ll turn to [Senior Administration Official Two] for the processing piece, but yes, I think what we announced in January both Mexico and the United States view as being extremely successful.  You’ve heard both the President and both – and President López Obrador speak about it publicly.  We achieved over 95 percent sustained drop in encounters at our shared border as a result of this initiative, this novel initiative that combined real consequences for unlawful entry with really accessible expanded legal pathways.  So 30,000 for 30,000 is something that has proven to work, and we’ve committed – both countries – to continue with that arrangement of 30,000 to 30,000 after May 11th.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Thanks, [Senior Administration Official Four], and – I’m sorry, remind me what the question was.  I lost the thread.  My sincere apologies.

MODERATOR:  Camilo, could you maybe repose the question if you’re still on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Never mind, I remembered.  It was with regards to voluntary returns.  That is an option that we are looking at and may make available to individuals who are processed by the Border Patrol and could be returned to Mexico.  If we pursue that option, individuals would be given one opportunity to voluntarily withdraw, and if they returned, they would be ordered removed.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you so much.  Can we go to Shannon Crawford from ABC News?

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much for doing this.  One more question about the Regional Processing Centers.  I know you’ve said that the online appointments will be coming available in the coming days, but I was wondering, does the State Department have any kind of anticipated timeline on how long it’ll take to go from that online portal to an in-person appointment?  And given that there’s widely expected to be a sharp influx of traffic at the border, is there any concern that this is perhaps too little too late or that these Regional Processing Centers should’ve been up and running sooner to deal with the demand?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Thanks, I’ll take that.  So first of all, there’s going to be some range of services available at all of the regional processing centers, but they might be some additional benefits that vary by location depending on the population that’s being served.  So that’s part of the process that’s underway.

And in terms of where this fits in other measures and other legal pathways and other resources, I think it’s really important to underscore here this is the latest, will not be the last, and certainly was not the first legal pathway made available in an innovative fashion by the administration to deal with this unprecedented challenge.  Some of those were referred to already with regard to the 30,000 for 30,000 of the four nationalities that were eligible – the Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan nationals who are eligible for those.  There are other efforts related to other categories as well, and we’ve continued other efforts with other countries as well.

And an important element of the work that we’ve done in the region is also to encourage settlement and final settlement in the region for people who’ve been displaced, and countries have stepped up across the region – with millions in the case of Colombia, over a million in the case of Peru; Ecuador, Costa Rica, and other countries have taken on their responsibilities as well in collaboration with us and other partners.  So these centers are just the – again, the latest iteration, and we are going to continue to look for ways to address this as the challenge evolves.  But it is a massive challenge and one that requires an enormous level of creativity which we seek to continue.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Vanessa Romo from NPR.

QUESTION:  Thanks for taking my question.  I’d like to go back to the number of personnel that have been stationed along the border.  I think [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned 24,000 law enforcement personnel deployed along the border.  I’m wondering if you have a little bit more specific information in terms of the type of law enforcement and where exactly they are along the border.  Is there any particular state that’s taking the vast majority of these?

I’m also curious about the 400 volunteers who put their hands up to manage challenging conditions.  I’m curious about what type of volunteers they are, and also what kind of training the additional personnel that are going to be conducting the interviews have received.  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure, thanks for the question.  So the 24,000 number is the number of Border Patrol agents and Office of Field Operations officers from Customs and Border Protection that are deployed to the border today.  In addition to that staffing, which we have been seeking to increase through our appropriations process but have not received the support that we would like from the U.S. Congress for that just yet, we are, as I mentioned, deploying additional law enforcement personnel from other DHS components and other federal agencies to the border in the hundreds.  We have deployed thousands of contract personnel to the border.  We are, as I think you know, deploying up to 1,500 DOD personnel to the border, and those deployments have begun already.  So there is a lot of support that is being flowed to the border in order to help our frontline personnel in these challenging days that we have been planning for for some time.

In terms of the interviews that will be conducted, we have an asylum officer corps that is expert in conducting asylum interviews.  We have been refreshing their training over the last few weeks and we will be deploying the vast majority of them in the coming days and weeks to the – to support these operations on the border.  That will mean that they will be doing less of the things that they would normally be doing, including what we call affirmative asylum interviews, but we are focused on meeting the moment and the challenge at hand, and it is an all-of-DHS and really all-of-government response that is taking place right now.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Colleen Long from the Associated Press?

QUESTION:  Yeah, hi, thanks for taking the call.  I have a clarification question.  If the – if Venezuelans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans are being returned back to Mexico, what – how will the U.S. deal with the other nationalities that are arriving?  Will they be – if they’re ineligible, deemed sort of ineligible quickly, will they be returned to Mexico or will they be deported via flight?  I just wondered how that would work specifically with, like, Guatemalans or El Salvador – people from El Salvador, those nationalities.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, thanks for that great question.  So for nationalities that cannot be returned to Mexico – and again, for the first time, that, as you noted, includes the four countries that are not Mexican nationals – those other nationalities will be returned promptly to their home countries.  We have been working really hard over the last year and a half to negotiate agreements with countries throughout the hemisphere to facilitate the prompt return of their nationals who have exhausted their legal avenues to stay in the United States.  As [Senior Administration Official Three] noted, what we are seeing in terms of nationalities at the border is new.  We have not historically seen large numbers of migrants from countries like Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru to the border.  And as such, we’ve had to really negotiate for the first time with those countries agreements to return their nationals at scale in large numbers.

We have been operating dozens of flights a week over the last year because we’ve been expelling and removing record numbers of people – more than 3 million over the last two and a half years – people have been expelled or removed from the U.S..  That is a record number of people that is in large part because of the efforts of the State Department and our personnel to secure these agreements with third countries.  So all of that will continue on Thursday under Title 8 processing with the difference that the individuals who will be removed will have final orders of removal, and those final orders will carry with them a five-year bar on re-entry, and the potential for criminal prosecution if someone tries to enter again.

So we believe that we will be ready to meet the moment, although we also appreciate that there will be some challenging days ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Maria Sacchetti from The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Hello.  I wanted to ask what impact the surge of resources to the border is having on asylum processing and immigration processing in the interior?  We’re hearing that appointments are being canceled and they’re being canceled indefinitely for people who have waited years for asylum.  Could you let us know what’s going on with that and how long you expect this to last?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, thanks, Maria.  I mean, I think as I mentioned already, we will be refocusing our asylum officer corps on credible fear interviews for the next few weeks to meet the current moment.  That will have impacts on their other normal day-to-day functions, including affirmative asylum cases.  Those cases are being rescheduled.  We have been essentially clearing the decks for our asylum corps in order to focus on this challenge.  We hope to be able to return to normal order as quickly as possible.  But we are – again, the entire department and really the entire government is really focused on addressing the challenge that we face on our southwest border today.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And we have time —



SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Sorry.  I want to come in quickly with one thing on there.  I just will note that we shouldn’t have to make these choices.  We should have the funds sufficient to adequately address the needs of our asylum backlog, to adequately address the challenges that we’re seeing now.  And I’ll remind you that the President sent up on day one a bill to reform several aspects of our asylum system, and Congress has failed to act on that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have time for one final question, and that will go to Michelle Hackman from The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks so much for doing this call.  I’m wondering if you can just, I guess to end this off, level set with us a little bit about how many crossings you guys are preparing for and – or expecting in the next few days and weeks, and if you could speak to how long you expect these elevated crossing levels to last.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure.  That’s a tough question, and I can try to tackle at least part of it, and others please jump in.  We have been – we know that there are many thousands of individuals in Mexico who have been waiting across from the border for some time.  We believe that the current elevated numbers we’re seeing will likely continue for a few weeks.

As I think [Senior Administration Official Four] noted, the Government of Mexico has committed to undertaking a pretty robust law enforcement operation on their southern border and on the transit routes to the northern border that we think will help.  [Senior Administration Official Three] discussed the Darién initiative that we are hoping will impact the flows further downrange.  So we believe there’s a robust set of measures in place that will over time tamp down these flows, but there’s no doubt that the first few days and maybe a few weeks will be challenging.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s call, which, as a reminder, was on background to senior administration officials.  Today’s call was embargoed until 8:00 a.m.   Thank you all so much for joining.  Have a great night.

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