President Joe Biden says he plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border “at some point” for a first-hand look at conditions as the entry of migrants seeking refugee status in the U.S. rises sharply.
The comment, made to reporters at the White House on Sunday, came after the U.S. Homeland Security secretary said he’s not worried about setting a precedent on open borders by allowing thousands of unaccompanied minors to enter the country.
“At some point I will, yes,” Biden said about a border visit. Asked if he wanted to see first-hand what’s happening at overcrowded migrant processing centers, he added, “I know what’s going on in those facilities.”
The president’s schedule for the coming week, released by the White House, shows no plans for a border visit through Thursday.
The influx of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border has become a political liability for the two-month-old Biden administration, which reversed many of former President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies. Republicans blame Biden’s approach for encouraging a new wave of migrants while the administration says Trump left behind an inhumane and inadequate system that can’t keep up.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. Homeland chief, spoke on four Sunday talk shows as pressure mounts over what many see as deteriorating conditions on the border.
“The border is closed,” Mayorkas said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that immigration authorities are expelling families and single adults, but not children who cross the border alone.
“We will not expel into the Mexican desert, for example, three orphan children whom I saw over the last two weeks,” Mayorkas said.
A major focus for the Biden administration, he said, is rebuilding “orderly systems” in Mexico and Central America to discourage would-be migrants from traveling to the U.S. border.
“It takes time, because the entire system was dismantled” by the prior administration, he said on “Fox News Sunday.” Biden also referred to re-establishing “what existed before.”
“We are elevating our messaging, so that the individuals do know that they cannot come to the border,” Mayorkas said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
On Friday, Mayorkas traveled to El Paso, Texas, with two Democratic and two Republican senators to view first-hand the processing and housing for unaccompanied minors.
That closed out a week in which the White House heard from members of both parties describing the U.S. southwest border situation as a mess.
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican hardliner on immigration, blamed the border surge on the new administration’s move to end Trump policies that sent families, children and other border crossers back to Mexico or flown to their home countries.
“The border right now is wide open because the Biden administration dismantled the very effective policies of the Trump administration and the agreements we had with Mexico and other Latin American countries,” Cotton said on “Fox News Sunday.”
GOP Representative Michael McCaul of Texas also urged the administration to revisit Trump’s Migration Protection Protocols. Asked about abuses of would-be migrants kept away from the U.S. border under those deals, he said: “It’s a good policy because it deterred.”
Republican lawmakers are streaming to the southwest border to highlight the problems, including Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who planned to visit an Arizona border outpost on Sunday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already made the trip with a group of GOP colleagues.
One of the two Republicans who traveled with Mayorkas on Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, tweeted about “dismantling” the Trump administration’s policies with no thought to the ramifications.
Democrat Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted that he “fought back tears” from what he saw on the trip.
“The Biden Administration is trying their best to uphold the rule of law with humanity. They have a ton of work ahead to clean up the mess Trump left them, but their intentions are true,” tweeted Murphy.
Mayorkas refused during an appearance Wednesday before the House Committee on Homeland Security to agree that the problems had reached the level of “a crisis,” aggravating some Republicans.
The U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials in recent weeks. That includes 18,945 family members encountered in February alone, an increase of 168% from January, according to the Pew Research Center.
Officials are looking for ways to boost capacity to house and care for migrants now in federal custody.
Axios reported Saturday that the Biden administration has awarded an $86 million contract for hotel rooms near the border to hold about 1,200 migrant family members. The Washington Post reported that customs officials are considering flying migrants to states near the Canadian border for processing.
Asked about the report, Mayorkas said on CNN that “we don’t have those plans in place now. But what we are doing is, we are putting all options on the table, as it is our responsibility to do.”
The biggest challenge faced by Biden’s administration is that of unaccompanied children. They’re allowed to enter the country in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, even as most adults and families are sent away. More than 9,600 entered the U.S. in February, triple the number who arrived in February 2020, according to data released earlier this month.
On CNN, Mayorkas said three facilities had been established in the last week to help move children out of border patrol stations.
McCarthy told reporters on Thursday, “This entire crisis is created simply by Joe Biden’s actions and words.” On Saturday he tweeted that Democrats need to “DO SOMETHING.”