The Biden administration on Tuesday admitted that the southwest border is on pace to encounter more illegal immigrants than it has in the past two decades, but still refuses to call the situation a "crisis." At least one Democratic senator disagrees.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) thinks the Biden administration is sending the wrong message as Customs and Border Protection reports encountering more than 100,000 migrants at the U.S. border in February.
"Whatever message was sent — it was sure interpreted the wrong way," Manchin told CNN in an interview Monday night. "It's a crisis, oh, it's a crisis."
From day one, President Joe Biden sought to strike a completely different tone on immigration policy from the previous administration. He reversed several of President Donald Trump's border policies, including ending Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for processing and limiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement's enforcement actions against most illegal immigrants. The president also vowed to sign legislation granting amnesty and U.S. citizenship to 11 million illegal immigrants.
In the view of migrants hoping to come to the United States, these actions established Biden as, in the words of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, "the migrant president." Their faith in this president was signified by those appearing at the border wearing Biden T-shirts saying, "Please let us in," clinging to the promises he made by word and deed, promises the Mexican government says "incentivize migration."
As a result, according to a statement from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. government is "on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years." While the administration claims single adults and families traveling together are being turned away at the U.S. border because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden has instructed border authorities to take custody of unaccompanied children and seek to reunite them with family or sponsors already in the U.S.
Reports say U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have custody of 4,200 children in detention centers. The facilities housing these children are overwhelmed, filled beyond their COVID-19 safe capacity, and lacking essential resources like light, bedding, and enough food.
The kids held there are also being detained longer than the legally permissible 72-hour period before they should be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. DHS facilities are at max-capacity, requiring CBP to keep custody of the children longer. There are also plans to house 3,000 male migrant teenagers at a convention center in downtown Dallas for up to 90 days to relieve the stress on other overcrowded facilities.
Last week, the Biden administration was forced to deploy FEMA to assist with the care for these children.
Compounding the problems at the border is a rise of violent crime as drug cartels, human traffickers, and smugglers take advantage of the migrants. Local officials from the border report violent incursions into their communities, including dangerous high-speed chases with police. Criminals apprehended by authorities include illegal immigrants previously deported for sexual assault, murder, and drug trafficking.
Reuters reported last week that criminal organizations are adopting "unprecedented" levels of sophistication to conduct their smuggling operations, including "briefing clients on the latest immigration rules, using technology to outfox authorities, and disguising smuggling operations as travel agencies."
Republicans accuse Biden of inviting this crisis. "This is all a direct result of wide-open borders policy by the Biden administration, failure to finish the fence, but most importantly, they're basically turning DHS into a welcome mat and they're just encouraging more dangerous journeys for kids," Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said Monday.
Mayorkas on Tuesday defended the president's policies, describing the current border surge as "difficult" but insisting it is "not new" and refraining from calling it a crisis.
"The situation at the southwest border is difficult," Mayorkas said. "We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so. That is our job. We are making progress and we are executing on our plan. It will take time and we will not waver in our commitment to succeed."
"We will also not waver in our values and our principles as a Nation," he said. "Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together."
We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children. We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children. We have more work to do.
This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well. Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the southwest border has been steadily increasing. Border Patrol Agents are working around the clock to process the flow at the border and I have great respect for their tireless efforts. To understand the situation, it is important to identify who is arriving at our southwest border and how we are following the law to manage different types of border encounters.
Mayorkas said poverty, high levels of violence, and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries were factors pushing migrants to seek refuge in the U.S. He also noted, "two damaging hurricanes that hit Honduras and swept through the region made the living conditions there even worse, causing more children and families to flee."
He savaged the Trump administration in his statement, accusing Trump of dismantling the asylum system.
The prior administration completely dismantled the asylum system. The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers. We have had to rebuild the entire system, including the policies and procedures required to administer the asylum laws that Congress passed long ago.
The prior administration tore down the lawful pathways that had been developed for children to come to the United States in a safe, efficient, and orderly way. It tore down, for example, the Central American Minors program that avoided the need for children to take the dangerous journey to our southwest border.
The previous administration also cut foreign aid funding to the Northern Triangle. No longer did we resource efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to tackle the root causes of people fleeing their homes.
And, there were no plans to protect our front-line personnel against the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no appropriate planning for the pandemic at all.
Going forward, the secretary said the Biden administration would work to set up new facilities to house migrants, increase COVID-19 testing, coordinate refugee resettlement with Mexico and Central American countries, and help unaccompanied children apply for asylum in the U.S. on the internet so they don't have to make the dangerous journey north on their own.
"The situation we are currently facing at the southwest border is a difficult one," Mayorkas concluded. "We are tackling it. We are keeping our borders secure, enforcing our laws, and staying true to our values and principles. We can do so because of the incredible talent and unwavering dedication of our workforce."