EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – More than 100,000 newly arrived migrants were released into the U.S. in March, a number likely to balloon once the Biden administration ends Title 42 in May, Border Patrol union leaders say.

That’s because border agents have been using the Trump-era public health rule to expel between 52 and 55 percent of unauthorized migrants, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd. The rest were processed under a federal statute called Title 8, which in most cases allows them to stay in the U.S. while their cases are reviewed.

“We made 200,000 apprehensions in the month of March. […] Those that we processed under Title 8 ultimately got released because (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) doesn’t have enough facilities to hold them,” Judd said, “In the month of March we released 100,000 people into the United States with either a Notice to Appear, parole or release to (Health and Human Services) because they were juveniles.”

Judd and other Border Patrol Council officials allege the 50-50 odds already encourage more unauthorized migrants to come to the border. In a Monday online broadcast, they expressed concern that most, if not all, of those who get processed under Title 8 after May 23, will ultimately be released.

“The situation is absolutely untenable. And we can talk about root causes (of migration) all we want but there is a simple fact, and the evidence bears this out: Catch and release is the single biggest driver of illegal immigration,” Judd said. “If we reward people for violating our laws, people are going to continue to come. And now when we’re talking about getting rid of Title 42, then the floodgates are going to completely bust open.”

NBPC President Brandon Judd

Immigration advocates in the past few days have welcomed the end of the Trump-era Title 42 policy, originally put in place to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19 but ultimately used to Trump and now by President Biden to manage the migrant surges of 2018, 2019 and 2021.

The advocates point out that showing up at U.S. borders to apply for asylum is lawful and allege that Title 42 has left thousands of asylum seekers no other choice but to enter the country illegally, turn themselves in to Border Patrol and request asylum.

Apprehensions already trending up

But agency union leaders say few migrants arrive at the border without paying smuggling organizations to bring them here; they fear those organizations will now coach everyone to say they want asylum when caught by the Border Patrol.

Judd and council Del Rio Sector President Joe Afinsen said apprehensions are already trending up along the Southern border.

“Just to give you an idea of what we’re facing … if we apprehend 3,500 people (a day), our resources are thin, but we can still marginally manage the situation,” Judd said. “Once we hit 5,000, our resources are completely overwhelmed, and we are at a crisis level. Last week we had 8,000 apprehensions in one day and that’s where we’re trending. What that does is takes our reoucrs3s over the field and gives the criminal cartels the control.”

Judd said half of the agents in some sectors are tied up transporting or processing migrants, which is leaving about 245 miles of U.S.-Mexico border virtually unguarded. It’s also increasing the number of “got-aways,” or migrants spotted by security cameras crossing the border but not chased or later found by Border Patrol.

Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, said agents are starting off their shifts at processing stations, hospitals or in transportation details instead of out on patrol.

“So from the beginning of our 10-hour shift we already lost half our manpower. One or two hours in we lose another 10 percent. By the end of our shift, we’re down to maybe 30 percent out on the field,” Cabrera said.

He said agents in his sector in March noticed an increase in migration and in smuggling attempts involving vehicles trying to cross in between ports of entry — a rare occurrence that’s happening three to four times a day now.

“We’re beckoning a lot of people to come in because they know once they get here, they’re not going back,” Cabrera said of the end of Title 42.

Cabrera is concerned about Title 42 ending just as the Texas heat ramps up and days prior to the start of hurricane season on the Gulf Coast.

Chris Cabrera, NBPC vice president

The heat every year claims the lives of people traversing deserts in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States; copious rain will pose a danger to the federal government’s “soft-sided” (tents) overflow facilities to process migrants, he said.

The Border Patrol union leaders say the Biden administration has not communicated to them how it specifically intends to enforce the nation’s immigration laws once Title 42 is gone.

They also expressed morale about plummeting morale in the agency, At a time when staffing should be at peak levels, agents have retired, left or are considering leaving.