Friction between the Biden White House and senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security over how to handle immigration is mounting, according to internal documents and communications reviewed by NBC News, as the number of undocumented migrants crossing the southern border keeps rising and Republican governors send migrants to more Democratic-run cities.
The White House has recently hosted a series of high-level meetings on immigration, where DHS officials have presented options, including flying migrants to the country’s northern border with Canada to alleviate overcrowding on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.
Some DHS officials have openly expressed frustration at those meetings with the White House’s reluctance to take a page from the book of Republican governors and begin transporting migrants to cities within the U.S., according to internal communications obtained by NBC News.
Under a plan proposed by DHS, migrants would be sent to such cities as Los Angeles, where shelters would get an advance warning to have time to prepare for the influx. The plan is designed to be less chaotic than what is happening now in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Officials in those places have been caught by surprise as Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida have sent migrants north to make a political statement.
The discussions come as the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is nearing 8,000 per day, according to data obtained by NBC News.
White House officials have previously set 9,000 per day as an internal trigger to begin what they refer to as “interior processing,” where migrants are flown or bused from the border to interior cities where shelters can take care of them as they await reunification with family members and eventually their dates in immigration court.
But in recent meetings between Homeland Security officials and the White House, some DHS officials have advocated that the administration should start securing planes and planning for interior processing now, according to documents obtained by NBC News.
Homeland Security officials have expressed frustration among themselves that Republicans are sending migrants to cities in an effort to sow chaos and shape the national conversation on immigration, while White House officials have stalled DHS initiatives to send migrants to cities inside the country in a more organized manner, according to internal communications.
Some areas of the border, meanwhile, are experiencing such high numbers of undocumented migrants in recent weeks that they have overwhelmed the resources of Border patrol and local charities. In El Paso, Texas, for example, nearly 9,000 migrants have been released at bus stations because local shelters have no capacity to house them until they can arrange for their own transportation. Typically, shelters work with migrants and their family members to see that their bus or plane tickets are purchased and that they have the means and directions to make it to their final destinations in the U.S.
Covid restrictions under Title 42, which were imposed shortly after the pandemic began in 2020, remain in place, and more than 1 million migrants have been expelled back to Mexico or their home countries. The most common nationality among recent arrivals in El Paso, however, is Venezuelan. Venezuela has resisted taking back its migrants, and Mexico balks at accepting Venezuelans expelled from the U.S., which leaves the U.S. to make decisions about their fate.
The White House, DHS and Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Julia Ainsley is Homeland Security Correspondent for NBC News and covers the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice for the NBC News Investigative Unit.