President Biden facing more questions about growing border crisis

FILE - In this Friday, March 19, 2021, photo migrants are seen in custody at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing area under the Anzalduas International Bridge, in Mission, Texas. The Biden administration is facing growing questions about why i
FILE - In this Friday, March 19, 2021, photo migrants are seen in custody at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing area under the Anzalduas International Bridge, in Mission, Texas. The Biden administration is facing growing questions about why i

Accused of having no plan to deal with migrant surge.

Posted: Mar 22, 2021 7:36 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Somehow, they didn’t see it coming.

Within weeks of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, the Biden administration had reversed many of the most maligned Trump-era immigration policies, including deporting children seeking asylum who arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border and forcing migrants to wait in Mexico as they made their case to stay in the United States.

While the administration was working on immigration legislation to address long-term problems, it didn’t have an on-the-ground plan to manage a surge of migrants. Career immigration officials had warned there could be a surge after the presidential election and the news that the Trump policies, widely viewed as cruel, were being reversed.

Now officials are scrambling to build up capacity to care for some 14,000 migrants now in federal custody — and more likely on the way — and the administration finds itself on its heels in the face of criticism that it should have been better prepared to deal with a predictable predicament.

“They should have forecasted for space (for young migrants) more quickly,” said Ronald Vitiello, a former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and chief of Border Patrol who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations. “And I think in hindsight, maybe they should have waited until they had additional shelter space before they changed the policies.”

The situation at the southern border is complex.

Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials. There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168% and 63%, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center. That creates an enormous logistical challenge because children, in particular, require higher standards of care and coordination across agencies.

Still, the encounters of both unaccompanied minors and families are lower than they were at various points during the Trump administration, including in spring 2019. That May, authorities encountered more than 55,000 migrant children, including 11,500 unaccompanied minors, and about 84,500 migrants traveling in family units.

Career immigration officials, overwhelmed by the earlier surges, have long warned the flow of migrants to the border could ramp up again.

Biden administration officials have repeatedly laid blame for the current situation on the previous administration, arguing that Biden inherited a mess resulting from President Donald Trump’s undermining and weakening of the immigration system. The White House says it has taken several steps to address the situation.

Migrant children are sent from border holding cells to other government facilities until they are released to a sponsor. That process was slowed considerably by a Trump administration policy of “enhanced vetting,” in which details were sent to immigration officials and some sponsors wound up getting arrested, prompting some to fear picking up children over worries of being deported. Biden has reversed that policy, so immigration officials hope the process will speed up now.

The White House also points to Biden’s decision to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known for helping communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster, to support efforts to process the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border. HHS announced Saturday that it was opening an additional facility in West Texas to help with influx of unaccompanied minors. The facility will initially accommodate about 500 children but can be expanded to house 2,000.

Biden and others have pushed back on the notion that what's happening now is a “crisis.”

“We will have, I believe, by next month enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go,” Biden said in a recent ABC News interview, when asked whether his administration should have anticipated the surge in young unaccompanied migrants as well as families and adults. He added, “Let’s get something straight though. The vast majority of people crossing the border are being sent back ... immediately sent back.”

Adam Isacson, an analyst at the human rights advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America, said Republicans’ insistence that there is a “crisis” at the border is overwrought, but that the surge in migrants was predictable.

He called it a perfect storm of factors: hurricanes that hit Central America last fall; the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic; typical seasonal migration patterns; the thousands of Central American migrants already stuck at the border for months; and the persistent scourge of gang violence afflicting Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Isacson said the Biden administration may have been “two or three weeks” slow in preparing for the increase in unaccompanied young migrants and the subsequent housing crunch after announcing in early February it would stop deporting unaccompanied youths.

But Isacson added that the bottleneck was also affected by the lack of cooperation by the Trump administration with the Biden transition.

The Biden administration announced on Feb. 2 it would no longer uphold the Trump administration policy of automatically deporting unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Two weeks later, the White House announced plans to admit 25,000 asylum-seekers to the U.S. who had been forced to remain in Mexico.

In subsequent weeks, the number of young migrants crossing without adults skyrocketed. Both Customs and Border Protection, and Health and Human Services officials have struggled to house the influx of children. Immigration officials say the number of adult migrants and families trying to enter the U.S. illegally also has surged.

Border patrol officials had encountered more than 29,000 unaccompanied minors since Oct. 1, nearly the same number of youths taken into custody for all of the previous budget year, administration officials say.

“Getting capacity up to deal with the unaccompanied minors is critical, but the numbers just don’t bear out to pointing to a crisis,” Isacson said.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans -- including Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California -- from pillorying Biden.

“It’s more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak,” said McCarthy, who led a delegation of a dozen fellow House Republicans to El Paso, Texas, on Monday.

Biden is also facing criticism from Republicans that his administration has sent mixed messages.

Critics have focused on public comments from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who earlier this month said the administration's message to migrants was “don’t come now” and a slip by Roberta Jacobson, the White House's lead adviser on the border, who said in Spanish during a recent briefing the “border is not closed,” before correcting herself.

The president and other administration officials in recent days have stepped up efforts to urge migrants not to come. Embassies in Northern Triangle countries are airing public service announcements underscoring the dangers of making the trek north.

Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, said Biden's team faces a powerful counter-narrative as it attempts to persuade desperate Central Americans to stay put: chatter on social media from migrants who successfully made it across the border and smugglers who insist that now is the ideal time.

Hershberg cites a Honduran friend's reaction to U.S. warnings that migrants could face danger on the journey: "You know, you don’t need to go with such uncertainty. You can just stay here and know that you’ll be raped or killed.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 770246

Reported Deaths: 8661
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1537491923
Ramsey63444980
Dakota57071526
Anoka54052520
Washington33690331
Stearns28419253
St. Louis23735361
Scott21652160
Wright21388171
Olmsted18144120
Sherburne15515115
Carver1366556
Clay1025399
Rice9985131
Blue Earth966659
Crow Wing9518109
Chisago837263
Kandiyohi835197
Otter Tail8061105
Benton7477111
Beltrami658079
Mower645541
Douglas629190
Goodhue619985
Itasca618885
Winona611854
McLeod595770
Steele585825
Isanti573074
Morrison557767
Becker534862
Polk512879
Freeborn487642
Nobles481652
Lyon456356
Carlton446866
Nicollet434454
Pine428532
Cass425745
Mille Lacs416967
Brown411547
Todd400036
Le Sueur386332
Meeker356854
Waseca327331
Martin326336
Wabasha29538
Hubbard292744
Dodge273510
Roseau265227
Fillmore243812
Redwood240443
Wadena238429
Houston231117
Renville228549
Faribault220630
Pennington217227
Sibley211612
Cottonwood197128
Kanabec192230
Chippewa190340
Aitkin184043
Watonwan171112
Pope16148
Yellow Medicine157220
Rock155319
Jackson147315
Koochiching138619
Clearwater136618
Murray135011
Swift134619
Marshall134520
Pipestone133427
Stevens124911
Lake109521
Wilkin102814
Lac qui Parle98524
Mahnomen90312
Norman8789
Big Stone7974
Grant7869
Lincoln7845
Kittson61122
Red Lake5899
Unassigned538124
Traverse5165
Lake of the Woods4764
Cook2460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 474151

Reported Deaths: 6785
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk74657729
Linn29194394
Scott24733274
Black Hawk20335358
Woodbury19207244
Johnson17988100
Dubuque15834229
Pottawattamie14276200
Dallas14109108
Story1288551
Warren774296
Cerro Gordo6951110
Webster6950111
Clinton6929101
Des Moines667594
Marshall641885
Muscatine6352113
Wapello5936137
Jasper578279
Lee565689
Sioux565676
Marion508191
Buena Vista491746
Plymouth463487
Henry389847
Jones370861
Washington366856
Benton359257
Bremer357168
Boone350937
Carroll346353
Crawford339347
Mahaska322856
Dickinson301052
Clay279133
Buchanan279039
Jackson273546
Kossuth271873
Hardin270249
Tama264976
Fayette260649
Delaware258546
Cedar249526
Page249328
Wright243645
Hamilton233954
Winneshiek233338
Floyd221845
Harrison217777
Madison216925
Clayton214558
Poweshiek211741
Iowa208029
Butler206638
Cass201557
Jefferson201040
Mills199929
Allamakee194753
Cherokee193844
Lyon192941
Hancock187639
Winnebago186633
Calhoun186116
Appanoose180850
Shelby178439
Louisa171052
Grundy168537
Humboldt167727
Emmet167146
Franklin164628
Mitchell164043
Union162637
Chickasaw159318
Sac157924
Guthrie155434
Montgomery142342
Palo Alto142032
Clarke141328
Keokuk139635
Monroe134335
Howard128222
Ida118641
Greene116315
Davis115225
Lucas113724
Pocahontas111423
Monona108738
Worth10818
Adair105335
Osceola94017
Fremont86111
Van Buren84221
Decatur82612
Taylor79713
Wayne74824
Ringgold67727
Audubon66814
Adams5095
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