Under political pressure, Biden officials toughen border message

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HARLINGEN, TEXAS, May 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas toured the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas on Tuesday as he pushes a tougher message of restoring consequences for people crossing illegally, countering criticism from Republicans and some Democrats of President Joe Biden's approach.

During an early morning visit to U.S. border operations, news camera crews were invited to film migrants boarding a removal flight to Guatemala, and Border Patrol officials told Mayorkas they needed more technology and manpower to deal with a record number of crossings, according to Reuters footage and a pool report.

U.S. authorities are currently allowed to quickly expel migrants to Mexico or other countries under a public health order known as Title 42 meant to control the spread of COVID-19. The rapid-fire expulsions mean the migrants cannot claim asylum, but also shield them from possible criminal charges, encouraging repeat attempts to cross the border.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that Title 42 is no longer needed for health reasons and intends for it to end on May 23. But that termination has been temporarily blocked in federal court. read more

A Louisiana-based federal judge is expected to rule this week over whether to keep it blocked following a lawsuit brought by a coalition of states with Republican attorneys general.

Mayorkas and other top U.S. officials in recent weeks have adopted a tougher message to justify the Title 42 rollback, saying deportations, which can include bars to re-entry, are more effective deterrents than quick expulsions.

The message counters criticism from both side of the political aisle that Biden lacks an adequate plan for a possible rise in crossings that could accompany the Title 42 termination.

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 202,000 migrants at the southwestern border in April, down slightly from March but still near historical highs, according to government data.

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Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Veronica Cardenas in Harlingen, Texas; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Oatis

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