WASHINGTON - US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the administration’s handling of immigration Thursday amid a huge surge at the Mexico border that is expected to intensify as pandemic-related entry curbs are dropped.

President Joe Biden’s administration has revealed it plans to end Title 42, a measure allowing the quick expulsion of migrants during the Covid-19 crisis, on May 23 -- in an announcement that sparked cross-party anger.

US Customs and Border Protection says it encountered 7,800 undocumented migrants a day along the southwest border in the past three weeks -- almost five times the average of 1,600 recorded from 2014-2019, before the coronavirus outbreak.

“We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under strain. It is not built to manage the current levels and types of migratory flows,” Mayorkas told the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, urging Congress to pass long-term reforms.

Mayorkas’s testimony came with the administration locking horns with a federal court in Louisiana that granted a request by Republican-controlled states to temporarily halt their planning to wind down Title 42. The order prevents the government from taking any action before a hearing on May 13 to determine whether Title 42 can be lifted.

Mayorkas set out a blueprint to boost border personnel, target people smugglers, speed up processing and increase holding capacity -- as he warned the worst was yet to come. “A significant increase in migrant encounters will strain our system even further and we will address this challenge successfully,” he said.

“It will take time, and we need the partnership of Congress, state and local officials, NGOs and communities to do so.”

Enacted at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 under then-president Donald Trump, Title 42 requires border agents to turn away anyone who crosses undocumented into the United States.

Since then, migrants have been expelled more than 1.7 million times under the policy.