Biden admin refuses to call border situation a ‘crisis’

Amid a surging number of migrants at the border since January, especially unaccompanied children, members of the Biden administration this week have blamed the Trump administration and are labeling the situation a “challenge” rather than a “border crisis.”

At Monday’s White House press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border was not a “crisis” but rather a “challenge”.

“The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are working around the clock seven days a week to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border—that we manage the challenge, as acute as the challenge is,” Mayorkas said, adding that the “challenge” is not just for the government, but for non-governmental organizations and border communities.

In a report last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that the number of migrants apprehended at the border during January hit roughly 78,000, an increase from 36,679 in January 2020.

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When asked at Tuesday’s briefing by a reporter about the DHS estimating 117,000 unaccompanied migrant children will arrive by this year and Mayorkas not calling the situation a crisis, White House press secretary Jen Psaki deferred to Mayorkas to explain his comment but also defended his terminology.

“Well, I’ll leave that to the secretary of homeland security to define. He said it was a ‘challenge,’ it is a challenge,” Psaki replied. “We have more than 7,000 unaccompanied kids who have come into the United States, and that is certainly a lot of children that we are trying to treat humanely and safely and process through the system as quickly as we can. That’s not easy, that is a challenge.”

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Later on Tuesday, Philip Weggmann of RealClearPolitics asked President Joe Biden if he believes there is a crisis at the border as he left the State Dining room.

“No, we will be able to handle it—god willing,” Biden replied.

At Monday’s briefing, Mayorkas also shifted blame for the increase in migrants at the border onto the Trump administration.

“Let me explain to you why [fixing the broken immigration system] is hard and why it is going take time. I think it is important to understand what we have inherited because it defines the situation as it currently stands. Entire systems are not rebuilt in a day or in a few weeks,” the DHS secretary said at the beginning of his Monday remarks. “To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety.”

“When I started 27 days ago, I learned that we did not have the facilities available or equipped to administer the humanitarian laws that our Congress passed years ago,” Mayorkas continued. “We did not have the personnel, policies, procedures or training to administer those laws.”

“Quite frankly, the entire system was gutted.”

Mayorkas also mentioned that the previous administration had terminated the Central American Minors Refugee program in 2017, as well as discontinued funding to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which he alleged was at the center of the current situation at the border.

The DHS secretary also claimed that the Trump administration entered into contracts that “were unlawful, or against the interest of the United States Department of Justice,” adding, “that’s just the tip of it.”

“It takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us established,” said Mayorkas. “What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantlement of the system and the time that it takes to rebuild it virtually from scratch.”

Furthermore, the DHS secretary said that Biden has a “multipart strategy” to carry out that vision, including ways the administration is working with the Mexican government and international organizations in Mexico, and vaccinating frontline workers at ports of entry, among other things.

However, Mayorkas issued a stern warning to those thinking of journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“They need to wait,” Mayorkas said. “If they come, if families come, if single adults come to the border, we are obligated to, in the service of public health, including the health of the very people thinking of coming, to impose travel restrictions under CDC guidelines and return them to Mexico—and we have done that.”

“We are not saying don’t come,” he added. “We are saying don’t come now, because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process for them as quickly as possible.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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