US Republicans accused President Joe Biden Wednesday of deliberately manufacturing an immigration crisis that rights campaigners say has seen thousands of migrants tortured and raped, as dramatic increases in already record-breaking entries are expected.
Crossings from Mexico have been surging in recent weeks, and two memos being circulated by the party leadership argue that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had made the current border crisis "the worst in American history."
A group of Republican senators told reporters Biden's weakness on the border was to blame for thousands of migrants being victimized by unscrupulous traffickers on their perilous journeys north.
"Today a crisis is raging at the southern border. It was created by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The crisis rages every single day," Texas senator Ted Cruz told reporters.
"And yet our president doesn't care, our vice president doesn't care. Democrats in Congress don't care."
Border guards caught illegal migrants 1.7 million times in the last fiscal year -- the highest number ever recorded and four times th expulsions posted in Donald Trump's last year in the White House, when numbers were down in part because of the pandemic.
Border officials are expected to announce in the next few days that encounters have passed one million for the first six months of the new financial year.
"The reason why you can't see border security legislation moving in this Democratic Congress is because the Democratic party has decided, as a political matter, they support illegal immigration," Cruz added.
"They view the two million illegal immigrants who came last year as future Democratic voters. And if the consequence of it is little children being physically and sexually assaulted, they're willing to take that consequence."
The senators warned 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 who have come from countries hit by an infectious disease outbreak. This, they warned, will worsen the inward flow of the deadly opioid fentanyl, with volumes increasing by 40 percent last year, as well as crack cocaine, heroin and crystal meth.
"One hundred thousand young people have died in America just this past year alone from drug overdoses. Make no mistake -- these drugs are coming across the porous border to our south," said Tennessee senator Bill Hagerty.
Title 42 expires at the end of March, although the change would only take effect in late May, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may decide as early as Wednesday whether to renew it.
"We are planning for multiple contingencies," White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told reporters, conceding that its discontinuation would spark "an influx of people to the border."
Biden's own Democratic Party is divided, with progressives pressuring the administration to revoke the public health order and 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.
Migrant advocates argue that the order is becoming outdated as the pandemic eases, and an affront to international conventions allowing people to claim asylum.
Advocacy organization Human Rights First (HRF) 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.
Similar concerns have been expressed by the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Rescue Committee.
Kennji Kizuka, HRF's associate director for refugee protection research, said the reports represented "just a tiny fraction" of the true cost of the "nightmarish policy."