Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that the number of gatherings along the southern US border has halved since Covid restrictions were lifted last week.

“Over the last two days, the United States Border Patrol experienced a 50% drop in the number of encounters compared to what we were experiencing earlier in the week before Title 42 ended at midnight Thursday.” Mayorkas said on CNN.state of the union

Still, he cautioned that it is «too early» to tell whether the surge in immigrants has peaked.

«It’s still early. We’re on day three, but we’ve been planning this transition for months and months. And we’ve been executing on our plan. And we’ll continue to do so,» Mayorkas said. «It’s too early. But the numbers that we have experienced in the last two days are noticeably below what they were before the end of Title 42.»

The Covid border restrictions, known as Title 42, were put in place by the Trump administration in 2020 and continued into the Biden administration until they expired Thursday night. The restriction allowed both administrations to expedite the removal of migrants without asylum hearings.

The Biden administration had tried three times to lift the restrictions in recent years but was thwarted by legal challenges from Republicans, who argued that lifting Title 42 would increase the flow of immigrants, strain the immigration system and pose risks to national security.

In the weeks leading up to the lifting of Title 42, the Biden administration braced for what was expected to be a record influx of migrants across the US-Mexico border.

Mayorkas said Sunday that Border Patrol had about 6,300 encounters along the border on Friday and about 4,200 on Saturday, a significant reduction compared to the number of undocumented immigrant crossings stopped before Title ended. 42.

Two DHS officials also said Saturday that daily migrant crossings had roughly halved since the pandemic restrictions ended. There were about 11,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday and 10,000 on Thursday, officials said.

Before Title 42 was lifted, some Democrats expressed skepticism about whether the administration was prepared for an increase in the number of asylum seekers.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Sunday that Title 42 had to be lifted by law because the pandemic ended: «The president has no discretion to keep Title 42 in place.»

In an interview on NBC News’ «Meet the Press,» Murphy also defended President Joe Biden’s handling of the border issue and criticized Republicans who had complained he didn’t do enough to handle it.

“The only Covid restriction that the Republicans seem to want to keep is the one that prevents people who don’t look like them from entering the United States,” Murphy said.

Mayorkas last month called for congressional support to fix the «broken immigration system» before Title 42 was lifted, calling for legislative reform to help the administration’s efforts to secure the border.

“We need resources for everything. Remember, the resources will allow us to move faster, more efficiently, within a broken immigration system,” he said.

The House passed a GOP-backed bill to address immigration at the border last week, the day Covid restrictions at the border were lifted.

The legislation, known as the Border Security Act of 2023, would require Customs and Border Protection to hire enough Border Patrol agents to maintain a staff of 22,000 and develop a plan to upgrade technology to make sure agents are safe. equipped. It would also require the secretary of Homeland Security to resume construction of the border wall, a centerpiece of the administration of former President Donald Trump.

The bill is unlikely to become law. Opposing Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate, and the White House issued a veto threat this month.

Democrats argued that it would go beyond the scope of border security and punish all non-citizens, including legal residents, victims of trafficking and refugees.

julia ainsley contributed.