According to CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, the White House has yet to label the growing situation at the southern border a crisis — but it is quickly becoming a main political issue for the new administration.
In February alone, 9,297 unaccompanied children (UACs) were apprehended at the border. As a result, thousands of children have been waiting in stations and shelters for processing — all while trying to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. In Washington, President Biden has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans.
The Biden administration is currently advocating for Congress to pass the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to launch major immigration reform in America. On Thursday the 18th, the House passed two bills that would establish paths to citizenship or legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Republicans led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have argued President Biden’s rollback of the previous administration’s policies as the reason for the recent overflow in migrants. On Monday the 15th, at border facilities in El Paso, Texas, McCarthy stated, “It didn’t have to happen. This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”
Border officials had been turning away migrants under pandemic orders during the Trump administration. While the Biden administration maintained those orders, UACs have been made exempt. Over 4,000 children are currently in facilities overseen by Border Patrol. The Dallas Convention Center will be used to intermittently house boys aged 15 to 17 to provide time for immigration hearings.
The White House was noticeably hesitant to label the border situation as a crisis. In recent weeks, more Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security staff have been deployed to the southern border.
In a recent poll by CNN/SSRS, Biden’s approval rating was 51% — higher than his predecessor’s best. This is largely due to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout being weeks ahead of schedule. In the same poll, 43% of those surveyed approved of his handling of immigration.
Biden as President-Elect in December voiced concern that lifting Trump policies too quickly could lead to “2 million people on our border.”
One group of policies lifted by the new administration were the Migrant Protection Protocols, known collectively as the Remain in Mexico policy. This policy had migrants remain in Mexico and wait for their asylum cases to be held in American courts. Biden’s rollback of some policies while retaining others has resulted in mixed messages surrounding the issue.
According to a recent The New York Times article, human smugglers are telling a significant amount of migrants that Biden has opened the border for them. Biden administration officials, such as White House press secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have reiterated for weeks that the border is closed and now is not the time for migrants to come.