As Trump-era immigration policy ends, Biden struggles with migrant crisis: ANALYSIS

Republicans have hammered him for, they say, ignoring the issue.

President Joe Biden will likely be forced to reckon this week with America's failed immigration policy in a way he hasn't had to since taking office, both as he weathers a potential surge of migrants on the United States' southern border and deal with the political fallout over his handling of the issue.

"It remains to be seen," the president said Tuesday, when asked if the U.S. was prepared for the expected rush of people on the border. "It's going to be chaotic for a while."

The Biden administration has been preparing for a potential surge of migrants at the southern border when the Trump-era "Title 42" border policies expire on Thursday.

The pandemic-era policy allowed the U.S. to turn away migrants, on public health grounds, without allowing them the opportunity to apply for asylum -- and has been used over 2.8 million times to expel migrants since March 2020. It's scheduled to end on Thursday, when the nation's COVID-19 public health emergency declaration lifts.

GOP officials and right-wing news outlets have spent years zeroing in on the migrant crisis at the border -- and blasting Biden for, in their view, relegating the issue to the back burner.

But that may end soon, since the federal government expects up to 10,000 migrants to attempt to cross the border each day after Title 42 ends.

Biden said Tuesday he had spent "close to an hour" speaking with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier in the day and that "we've gotten overwhelming cooperation from Mexico."

Political impact on reelection campaign?

Indeed, the president has given relatively little attention to immigration, at least publicly. But as he gears up for his recently announced reelection campaign, his response to the end of Title 42 has the potential to weigh heavily on whether he wins a second term in office.

While Biden's aides are quick to point to the fact that he laid out his vision for immigration reform on the first day of his presidency -- and point a finger at Republicans in Congress for refusing to negotiate a solution – the president himself has spoken infrequently about the topic.

"Our problems at the border didn't arise overnight and they’re not going to be solved overnight," the president said during a January speech, one of the few times he's focused on immigration during formal remarks. "It’s a difficult problem."

On Tuesday, too, he said he had told Republican congressional leaders their goal of cutting spending will shortchange the border.

"As I raised in the meeting -- when they said, 'Well, we're going to cut, and no spending more money' -- so what the hell happens?" Biden said. "If you cut -- you're going to cut people at the border? You're going to cut agents at the border? We-- we need more at the border, not less at the border."

Biden has visited the U.S.-Mexico border just once as president -- following two years of critics pressuring him to do so.

And even that visit, to El Paso, Texas, in January, was short – just four hours.

The president stopped by the border wall, received a briefing from law enforcement officials, and met workers at a migrant services center -- but, as far as the reporters traveling with him could surmise, he never met or even saw a migrant.

All the while, Republican officials have hammered him on the issue, creating the perception he has evaded dealing with it.

It's a political vulnerability that bears out in opinion polls.

Just 28% of Americans said in an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this year that they approved of the way Biden was handling the immigration situation at the southern border, with 59% saying they disapproved.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have made immigration a top priority. They plan to vote on a bill this week in the House, which they control, that would provide funding for more agents and security technology along the border.

"With Title 42 ending on May 11, and a surge of illegal immigration already occurring, we cannot afford to be blind to the truth, as the Biden administration has been for over two years," House GOP leaders said in a statement. "Our border is not secure and we must act."

What has Biden done?

Against that political backdrop, Biden has taken a series of steps that, critics say, mirror his predecessor's harsh crackdown on migrants – policies that Biden himself broadly criticized as a candidate running against then-President Donald Trump.

Biden has both defended and criticized Title 42, and officials have said they have had to enforce it while legal battles over its future played out. The president acknowledged as much in January, even as he told reporters, "I don't like Title 42."

Last week, the White House announced Biden would send 1,500 active-duty troops to the border to carry out administrative tasks and provide other support for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel already there. Migrant advocates liken the move to when Trump sent troops to the border in 2018, although the White House contends the circumstances are different.

And in February, Biden backed new limits on the ability of many people to seek asylum in the United States if they first transited through certain other countries like Mexico and didn't first seek asylum there. Critics compared it to a "transit ban" Trump had implemented, although the administration says they are providing migrants with other pathways to seek protection.

The number of migrants arriving at the southern border has remained stubbornly high, straining border communities and the agents protecting them. Over the past year, the U.S. Border Patrol has made well over 100,000 -- and as many as 220,000 -- arrests each month of people suspected of crossing into the U.S. illegally.

"It's clear that immigration is a political issue that extreme Republicans are always going to run on," Biden said in January. "But now they have a choice: They can keep using immigration to try to score political points or they can help solve the problem. They can help solve the problem and come together to fix the broken system."

But he's also facing blowback from some members of his own party, as well as migrant advocate groups.

Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, called Biden's decision to send active-duty troops to the border "unacceptable."

"Trying to score political points or intimidate migrants by sending the military to the border caters to the Republican Party’s xenophobic attacks on our asylum system," Menendez said.

The White House argues that where Trump supported separating children from their parents at the border and expanded a physical border wall, Biden has taken a more "humane" and effective approach -- and will continue to do so after Title 42 policies come to a close.

"He wants to do this in a humane way and -- and do it differently than it -- certainly than it was done in the last administration," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

Bracing for the end of Title 42

To prepare for the end of Title 42 policies, the administration has not only sent more troops to the border, but has also surged asylum officers and immigration judges there, too. It has also secured a commitment from Mexico to accept migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti whom the U.S. plans to continue turning away at the border if they feel to meet a narrow set of requirements.

Moreover, the Biden administration has also poured money and time into addressing the root causes of migration, particularly from Central America, hoping to stem the flow of migrants before they leave for America's border.

The president tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with addressing those root causes, a difficult job that -- while it has bolstered her foreign policy credentials -- has also opened her up to her own political attacks.

Still, even as the end of Title 42 approached, Biden's public schedule reflected his general outward approach to immigration -- devoid of speeches, meetings or other events to mark the impending change and expected migrant surge.

A White House official did not respond to questions about whether the president planned to participate in meetings or receive briefings as the policy comes to a close.

ABC News' Quinn Owen, Armando Garcia, and Lauren Peller contributed to this report.