US Republicans were set Wednesday to warn that immigration has become a "humanitarian disaster" as homeland security officials brace for dramatic increases in already record-breaking entries.
Crossings from Mexico have been surging in recent weeks, and two memos being circulated by the party leadership argue that President Joe Biden had made the current border crisis "the worst in American history."
A group of Republican senators has called a news conference on what they see as Biden's weakness on the border, which they are aiming to paint as out-of-control ahead of November's midterm elections.
"This is a disaster of huge proportions, a humanitarian disaster. It's a public health disaster," Texas senator John Cornyn, who is leading the effort, said as part of a panel discussion in San Antonio on Monday.
"And the Biden administration doesn't seem to care."
Border guards caught illegal migrants 1.7 million times in the last fiscal year -- the highest number ever recorded and four times the expulsions posted in Donald Trump's last year in the White House, when numbers were down in part because of the pandemic.
The Republican memos, obtained by Politico, warn that border officials are expecting to announce in the next few days that encounters have passed one million for the first six months of the new financial year.
"For the last 12 months in a row, there have been over 150,000 encounters at the southern border, eight of which broke records," one of the documents said.
Republicans are warning of a greater surge to come should Biden end Title 42, the Trump policy launched during the pandemic that allows border authorities to quickly expel asylum seekers and other migrants.
The public health order expires at the end of March and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may decide as early as Wednesday whether to renew it for another 60 days, The New York Times reported.
Biden's own Democratic Party is divided, with progressives pressuring the president to end Title 42 but moderates warning the move could spell disaster without a firm plan to deal with an influx of asylum seekers.
Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from conservative West Virginia, said Title 42 had been an "important tool" in combating the spread of Covid-19.
"With encounters along our southern border surging and the highly-transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant emerging as the dominate strain in the United States, now is not the time to throw caution to the wind," he said Tuesday in a letter to the CDC.
Migrant advocates argue that the order is becoming outdated as the pandemic eases, and an affront to international conventions allowing people to claim asylum.
Officials are planning to manage up to 18,000 encounters a day at the border by boosting personnel numbers, improving medical aid and setting up temporary processing facilities, according to the Times.
Advocacy organization Human Rights First said earlier this month Title 42 expulsions had led to nearly 10,000 reports of kidnap, torture, rape and other violent attacks against people blocked in or sent back to Mexico.
Kennji Kizuka, the group's associate director for refugee protection research, said the reports represented "just a tiny fraction" of the true cost of the "nightmarish policy."
"The grave human rights abuses faced by people turned away under Title 42 continue to mount every day that the Biden administration evades refugee law by using this illegal and inhumane policy," she said.