▶ Watch Video: Gonzales says it’s a “dire situation” in El Paso as city preps for Title 42’s end

Washington — Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Texas whose district includes 800 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border, said Sunday that the situation in neighboring El Paso is “dire” as the city braces for a spike in migrants crossing the border with the upcoming end of the pandemic-era policy known as Title 42.

“It is a dire situation in El Paso,” Gonzales said in an interview with “Face the Nation,” adding that the city’s mayor declared a state of emergency over the increase in migrants trying to claim asylum who are arriving at the southern border. “This is something you do when there’s a hurricane, a fire or an earthquake. What is happening is it’s a hurricane of migrants, and everyone is impacted.”

First invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Title 42 is a rule that allows migrants to be quickly expelled from the U.S. on public-health grounds. Federal border officials have expelled migrants 2.5 million times to Mexico or their home countries under Title 42, which allows them to do so without the guarantee of an asylum hearing.

While President Biden has dismantled several of his predecessor’s immigration policies, he has continued with Title 42 expulsions, in part as a means of managing the uptick in migrants who have arrived at the southern border over the past 18 months.

But the American Civil Liberties Union challenged Title 42 in federal court in 2021, arguing the pandemic-era order is unlawful and violates the rights of migrants seeking asylum. In November of this year, a federal judge in Washington declared Title 42 illegal and gave federal immigration officials until Dec. 21 to lift the Title 42 public-health order.

A group of Republican-led states asked the federal appeals court in Washington to postpone the end of Title 42, but the court declined to do so. The states have said they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but absent intervention from the high court, the pandemic-era restrictions will end Wednesday.

Gonzales said he visited a processing center for migrants in El Paso several days ago, where he said more than 500 migrants were waiting in an area meant for 100 people. The Texas Republican said he also saw another 1,000 migrants waiting outdoors, some without socks and jackets as temperatures are expected to drop into the teens this week.

“What I saw shocked me, and I wanted to share that with the world,” he said. “It’s not about politics. It’s not about trying to create this image that isn’t there. This is the reality. This is the facts. We’re not even at the worst of it yet.”

Gonzales and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas whose district includes 200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, are urging the Biden administration to take additional steps to stem the increase in asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration could relocate immigration judges to the border to immediately hear asylum cases, Gonzales said, while Cuellar underscored that migrants need to follow asylum procedures or be sent back to their countries of origin.

“What we need to do is have a pathway where they go through the bridges in an orderly way. And then, if they don’t follow that pathway, I think we need to send them back,” Cueller told “Face the Nation.” “I’ll finish with this analogy quickly. It’s like if somebody invites me to go to their house for lunch, but I decide to go through the back door and come through windows. I decide to bring a whole bunch of people, decide what hours I come in. It doesn’t work that way. We as a country need to set the asylum procedures.”

The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve an additional $3.4 billion to respond to the end of Title 42 and the pressure the sudden increase in migrants is expected to put on border cities and states. Both Cuellar and Gonzales agreed the money is needed, but more has to be done.

“That money is going to be used for processing, is going to be used for food and shelter and transportation and migrants. It doesn’t address the issue that we’re facing at the border,” Cuellar said, adding the request does not include border security.

Gonzales, meanwhile, said that while most of the migrants arriving at the southern border are in search of economic opportunities, that does not qualify them for asylum.

“Throwing money at a problem does not solve a problem. You can have an unlimited amount of soft sided facilities,” he said of the administration’s request for more money. “The problem is enforcing the laws that are already on the books.”

The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Biden administration’s immigration policies have been a chief criticism from Republicans, who are set to take control of the House in early January. GOP lawmakers have ramped up calls to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of the increase in illegal border crossings.

Gonzales said there will certainly be hearings in the Republican-led House focusing on the Biden administration’s border policies, but noted that pursuing impeachment does not yield immediate results for strained border cities.

“I take impeachment extremely serious. That is a case of emergency, break glass,” he said. “But impeachment, that’s a long process. The city of El Paso needs help today, not a year from now.”

Republicans have also condemned Mr. Biden for not visiting the southern border, and Cuellar, too, faulted the president for not doing so.

“There’s different ways of visiting the border. He doesn’t have to go there for just a photo op,” he said. “But you know, a leader has to show images of being up there in the front. He can do that. He  can do it in so many ways. And I’m not asking for a photo op. But I think that message that will go to not only the men and women in green and blue, but to the border communities – I’m more interested in the border communities — will, say, ‘hey, look, I’m the president of the United States. I’m here at the border, border communities, I feel your pain.'”

Keisha Lance Bottoms, senior adviser to the president for public engagement, said in an interview on “Face the Nation” that there are many considerations that go into where Mr. Biden travels.

“It’s a bit more disruptive for the president of the United States to travel than you or I.  But what the president has done is continue to lean in on this immigration issue,” she said. “It’s something that he ran on, and what we know over the past two years, every single thing that the president has run on, he’s put time and resources into addressing that.”

Bottoms said the Biden administration needs support from Congress to address the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and she urged Republicans to work with Mr. Biden on comprehensive immigration reform.

“This is not just an issue that we are facing in the United States. This is a global issue, so the president has been working very closely with our partners across the globe to address this global issue,” she said. “But we also need partnership at home. We need partnership from Congress, and we need to focus on what this decades-old issue is. And that issue is making sure that we have comprehensive immigration reform, not focusing on trying to impeach the Homeland Security secretary.”