Biden administration faces pressure on immigration amid influx

Republicans say President Joe Biden’s new policies on the US-Mexico border are encouraging more migrants to come.

Since taking office in January, US President Joe Biden has been working to restructure the country's immigration system and overturn many of his predecessor's hardline policies. [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

Amid the largest surge in migrant arrivals in 20 years and a rise in the number of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border, officials continued to urge people not to make the journey towards the United States.

In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, President Joe Biden cited a “mess that was inherited” from his predecessor Donald Trump and repeated the White House message that now is not the time for would-be migrants and asylum seekers to show up at US borders.

“Yes, I can say quite clearly: don’t come over,” Biden said.

“The process is getting set up – and it’s not gonna take a whole long time – is to be able to apply for asylum in place,” he said. “So don’t leave your town or city or community.”

Asylum seekers from Honduras walk down a dirt road after crossing the Rio Grande River into the US from Mexico on a raft in Penitas, Texas, US on March 16, 2021 [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

Since taking office in January, Biden has been working to restructure the US immigration system and overturn many of Trump’s hardline policies.

But amid a surge in migrant arrivals and unaccompanied children, his administration has in recent weeks come under pressure especially from Republican officials who say his policies are encouraging more migrants to come.

“This is a crisis, I don’t care what the secretary of homeland security wants to call it, it’s a crisis that they created, that this administration created,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Wednesday.

The Biden administration says poverty, gang violence and climate change in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are the main drivers of immigration – and not his policies.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, blamed Biden in a Wednesday press conference for “enticing” child migrants to come to the US.  He urged the president to allow Texas officials into facilities to question the children with an aim to locate the traffickers who brought them to the US border.

In February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said more than 100,000 migrants attempted to cross the border, the highest since 2019. And more than 9,000 children crossed the US-Mexico border without a parent or a guardian.

“The adults are being sent back,” Biden said during the interview, referring to a Trump-era policy he kept in place – Title 42 – which allows for the swift deportation of asylum seekers to their country of origin or to Mexico.

But the growing number of children travelling without a parent or adult has been a cause for concern amid reports that the children were being held in crowded facilities, with insufficient beds.

“We will have, I believe by the next month, enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go, but they need to be taken care of,” Biden said during the interview.

US DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas rejected the charge that there is a ‘crisis’ on the border [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “the border is secure and the border is not open”, but repeated the assertion that the government, unlike the Trump administration, would not deport children travelling alone.

“Children can make their claims for humanitarian relief in immigration proceedings as the law provides”, Mayorkas told Congress during a hearing on the border situation on Wednesday. “If it is determined that they do not have a valid claim, they will be returned in a safe manner,” he said.

He also rejected the charge that there is a “crisis” on the border.

“I’m not spending any time on the language we use,” he said, “I’m spending time on operational response to the situation at the border – that’s what I’m focused on.”

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the plan, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Mexico will next week will reinforce its National Guard troops stationed along its southern border with Guatemala in order to deal with the surge of migrants from Central American making their way up north.

Mexico’s National Guard has been guarding the nation’s southern border since 2019 – when Trump threatened Mexico with tariffs if they did not do more to block migrants from crossing.

The increased focus on immigration comes amid shifting perspectives among Republicans, according to a recent poll conducted by Reuters-Ipsos, published on Wednesday.

According to the survey, 77 percent of Republicans said they want more wall fencing along the US-Mexico border to stop migrants from coming – up 6 percent since 2015.

The Biden administration ordered the halting of the construction of the border wall along the nation’s southern border – Trump’s signature project – on his first day in office. And he reversed a policy that forced asylum seekers to go back to Mexico while they wait for their court dates.

According to the poll, 22 percent of Republicans said they consider immigration to be the most important issue in the US – up from 7 percent from early February.

Source: Al Jazeera