With detention facilities filling up along the US-Mexico border and President Joe Biden struggling to accommodate the influx, he nevertheless insists that he’s holding back even more migrants.
Two months after Biden shredded former President Donald Trump’s tough immigration politics, the number of migrants detained at the border is set to hit 130,000 in March, up from 100,000 in February and 34,000 a year ago. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are being held in makeshift facilities and the US military has had to open up its Texas bases to handle the surge.
Against this background, Biden told reporters on Thursday that things could be worse. “The vast majority, the overwhelming majority, of people coming to the border are being sent back,” he said during his first solo press conference, nine weeks after his inauguration.
Yet tens of thousands are getting through and, asked what he plans to do with these migrants, all of whom would have been turned back under a coronavirus-related policy implemented by Trump, Biden was less sure.
The president seemed to suggest that accommodating underage migrants should be a priority of the US government, boasting that his administration is working to reunite them with potential family members in the US, and condemning Trump for not opening up thousands of beds for them, as the Pentagon recently did at two Texas military bases.
When asked if any of these arrivals would eventually be deported, he said that he couldn’t make that judgment. One potential avenue mentioned by Biden involved sending underage migrants to temporary accommodation until an immigration hearing could be held. However, wait times for immigration hearings can approach two years, and many migrants, young and old, simply never show up.
Thanks to his reinstatement of the Obama-era ‘Catch and Release’ policy, detained migrants are, as a rule, released into the US to await these hearings. Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted this week that many new arrivals were being turned loose into the US.
Biden has faced repeated accusations from Republicans that his opposition to Trump’s border policies effectively gave migrants a green light to attempt to enter the US. His own officials have stated that migrants may have felt more “hope” of entering under Biden.
Pressed on whether he shouldered any responsibility for the current migrant influx, Biden joked that he “should be flattered people are coming because I’m a nice guy,” but blamed the soaring border crossings on poverty and violence in the migrants’ home countries, and President Trump’s withdrawal of funding from these Central American nations.
Whatever the cause, and whatever Biden chooses to do with these migrants, a large number of the underage border-crossers remain held in deplorable conditions in Border Patrol facilities. One of these facilities, in Donna, Texas, is currently operating above 1,500 percent capacity, and even when it was less crowded last week, photos from inside the facility revealed squalor and overcrowding.
Pressed by NBC News’ Kristen Welker about when he plans on allowing journalists a glimpse at such facilities, Biden offered no definitive answer, simply saying he would “commit to transparency” as soon as “my plan is underway.”
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