The first migrants arrived in Washington, D.C., on buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to protest the Biden administration's handling of the southwest border. The stunt achieved this much: the Border Patrol is going to stop releasing migrants into the Texas community that called for Abbott's help — for now.
But the agency has already reported encountering 1 million illegal border crossers in the first six months of the current fiscal year. That's on track to exceed the more than 1.7 million recorded the entire previous fiscal year. Now the administration is lifting former President Donald Trump's invocation of Title 42, which denied migrants entry on public health grounds during the pandemic.
"We have every expectation that when [Title 42 is lifted], there will be an influx of people to the border," White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters last month. Homeland Security officials are preparing for 18,000 encounters a day. The New York Times further noted, "Democrats do not want the southwest border to appear out of control in the months ahead of the midterm elections, which would fuel more Republican attacks on the Biden administration's border policies."
That ship has sailed. The border has been a mess for the entirety of Joe Biden's presidency, even if the White House has sought to avoid the word "crisis." Some of Biden's lowest job approval ratings concern his handling of immigration. Voters overwhelmingly oppose this Title 42 change specifically.
Biden does have one option. His administration has alternated between turning the page on the pandemic or retaining COVID protocols (like the transit mask mandate or the pause on student loan repayment) when politically expedient. They could reverse course on Title 42.
Biden has insisted he leaves these decisions to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention without political interference. But he's been willing to apply pressure before and the Title 42 decision will have implications for an already strained border that go beyond its public health rationale.
Border state Democrats have a legitimate reason to fear that Biden will "follow the science" over an electoral cliff this year.