DHS Secretary
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas AFP

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the Biden administration's decision to crack down on asylum-seekers who enter the country unlawfully, saying the goal is increasing incentives for migrants to immigrate through legal means.

Speaking to ABC News, Mayorkas said "our intent is to really change the risk calculus of individuals before they leave their countries of origin," as well as incentivizing them to "use lawful pathways that we have made available to them and keep them out of the hands of exploitative smugglers."

According to administration officials, the amount of expedited removals at the border has more than doubled since the order was issued early last week. Before, about 900 people were reached by such measures each day, an administration official told the outlet.

The new executive action bars migrants who cross illegally from seeking asylum once a daily threshold is met, unless individuals meet certain exemptions. The measure could be turned on and off and would be lifted when there's a daily average of fewer than 1,500 encounters between ports of entry.

Figures had already been decreasing over the past months, with experts citing Mexico's increased efforts at preventing migrants from reaching the U.S. Authorities have stopped nearly three times as many migrants within its territory compared to the previous year.

The effects are already showing, with unlawful crossings at the southern border decreasing by more than half compared to December's record-highs during the first three weeks of the month, according to government internal figures reported by CBS News.

However, as congressional dispute over budgets continue, experts and migrants are questioning how rules will be enforced without additional funding. Three agents involved in enforcing the measure also told NBC News there is confusion over what to do with thousands of migrants who will now be deported but whose countries will not accept them back, such as migrants from Venezuela, China and elsewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Mexico, on its end, is seeking an agreement with president Joe Biden for the United States to deport asylum-seekers and migrants to their countries of origin rather than Mexico.

"We are seeking an agreement that if they (the U.S.) make the decision to deport, they do so directly," AMLO said at a press conference Wednesday when asked if Biden's plan could lead to a potential increase in migrants on the Mexican side of the border.

At the same time, several Department of Homeland Security officials responsible for carrying out the action, and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there is concern that detention facilities and processing centers for migrants could quickly become overcrowded.

While these questions remain unanswered, Department of Homeland Security officials said at a press conference last week that the agency will be sending resources to the border in the coming weeks. They said the new policies should reduce the time it takes to process migrants by 30 to 45 minutes, in order to free up more space to hold migrants in custody.

Officials also said migrants will now be given only four hours to find a lawyer to represent them before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers who are making the decision about whether they meet a new, higher standard to seek protection in the United States.

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