The Biden administration is facing not just a crisis at the border, but a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Unaccompanied migrant teenagers and children have never before arrived at the border in such numbers.
For the past three weeks, federal agents have apprehended on average more than 550 unaccompanied minors every day, and are on pace to bring in more than 17,000 children and teens in March, the most ever in a single month. The numbers for April and May, when border crossings usually peak, will undoubtedly bring far higher numbers.
The federal agencies tasked with managing this crisis are overwhelmed. The facilities that house unaccompanied minors in federal custody are overrun. The Biden administration has tried to impose a media blackout at the border, but the truth is getting out. Images of migrant children sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded, makeshift detention facility in South Texas circulated widely on Monday.
The photos, first leaked to Axios by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, show a large tent structure partitioned into “pods” by clear plastic walls. Children and teenagers are packed into each of these pods, sleeping or sitting on plastic mattresses, huddled under emergency blankets in close proximity. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility where the images were taken was 1,500 percent over its pandemic-rated capacity as of Sunday, according to CBP data reviewed by the Washington Post.
More than 550 teens and children have arrived per day on average through March 21, per latest govt data. If pace continues, here’s how current influx compares to 2014 and 2019, via @lmshap pic.twitter.com/l64YfiiIXq
— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) March 23, 2021
In response to the leaked photos, CBP released dozens of its own photos of emergency migrant shelters Tuesday in a belated attempt at transparency and damage control. Both the leaked and official photos reveal conditions that are more or less identical to the 2019 border crisis, when then-President Trump was denounced by Democrats—including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—for putting “kids in cages,” a misleading phrase that would become a rallying cry for the anti-Trump resistance over his supposedly cruel immigration policies.
Now, as illegal immigration surges along the southwest border, the Biden administration is stuck with their own version of “kids in cages” amid calls to end the media blackout and allow journalists access to these detention facilities, where thousands of minors have been held for longer than 10 days in blatant violation of federal law.
In every way, though, this is a crisis of the Biden administration’s own making. Immediately upon taking office, President Biden signed a raft of immigration-related executive orders that ended a number of Trump-era policies and programs designed to deter illegal immigration. Those orders, combined with strong messaging and rhetoric from Biden and other Democrats, that migrants claiming asylum should be allowed into the country, created powerful incentives for migrants, most of them from Central America, to get across the border.
As the crisis has worsened, Biden administration officials—and Biden himself—have been consistently dishonest about what they’re doing and why. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who recently said the United States was on pace to see the largest number of border apprehensions “in the last 20 years,” went on all the Sunday shows to insist, falsely, that “the border is closed.”
In fact, the border is mostly open. How do we know? Because the administration is scrambling to house a record number of migrant families and minors that are coming across.
The federal government is housing migrants in jail-like CBP facilities right on the border, shelters for minors run by the Department of Health and Human Services, tent-like structures like the one in the leaked photos, and even hotel rooms. The administration just awarded an $86-million contract to pay for hotel lodgings for about 1,200 migrant families—for up to six months, maybe longer.
Mayorkas then went on to make other false statements and misrepresentations. Echoing a line used often by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and others, he blamed the crisis on Trump, citing the former president’s decision to end something called the Central American Minors Program. Trump, Mayorkas told NBC News, “dismantled the orderly, humane and efficient way of allowing children to make their claims under United States law in their home countries.”
No, he didn’t. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York explained in detail, the Central American Minors Program, created by the Obama administration, was meant to help minors get refugee status in the United States if they already had a parent who was in the United States legally.
Most of these parents are in the United States under what’s called “Temporary Protected Status,” which is supposed to be a short-term (hence “temporary”) designation for people who are allowed into the United States because of a natural disaster or some other catastrophe in their home country. Allowing these parents to bring their children to the United States would be a way to make this temporary status permanent, which is what Obama and the Democrats were hoping to do.
Anyway, as York notes, the program only ever admitted about 3,000 minors—in other words, fewer than the number of minors being apprehended at the border every week this month. The current surge of minors has nothing to do with this Obama-era program, and bringing it back won’t solve the crisis at the border. Mayorkas and other Biden officials likely know that, but they’re no doubt hoping no one bothers to look up the details of an obscure asylum program.
What’s more, Mayorkas and others repeatedly have blamed Trump for “dismantling” the asylum system, but in fact the refugee office of HHS, which is responsible for housing minors, expanded its shelter capacity by some 13,000 beds in response to the 2019 border crisis. What the Biden administration inherited from Trump was in fact a vastly expanded network of HHS shelters and CBP facilities designed to handle a surge in illegal immigration, specifically a surge of unaccompanied minors.
But instead of keeping in place Trump-era programs that would have deterred illegal crossings, or maintained the practice of quickly expelling nearly all illegal immigrants by flying them back to their home countries under the pandemic-related Title 42 health order issued by Trump, Biden threw open the border without preparing the shelter system for the inevitable influx of migrants it would bring.
Now that they’re coming in unprecedented numbers, the best the administration can muster is to lie about what its response has been. The administration has been insisting for months now that the vast majority of families who cross illegally are being expelled over pandemic concerns. Asked by a New York Times reporter about the increasing numbers of families being allowed to remain in the country, Psaki replied that families are only being allowed to stay because Mexico won’t accept them back, and that “these circumstances are limited.”
To which Michelle Hackman, who covers immigration for the Wall Street Journal, replied that an internal document she and her colleagues reviewed showed that only about 10 percent of families are being expelled. In other words, Psaki appears to be lying. The circumstances in which families are being allowed to stay isn’t at all limited; almost all of them are released into the U.S.
The pandemic, by the way, still looms large in this crisis. Some of those now crossing the border are testing positive for COVID-19, and in the busiest stretches of the border, like the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers are not equipped to administer tests, and have been quickly releasing migrants into U.S. towns, sometimes without even issuing them orders to appear before an immigration judge at a later date.
All of this to say, yes, there is indeed a crisis at the border, and if it continues like this for another two or three months, as seems likely, it will the most severe border crisis in a century. We’re talking about a genuine humanitarian catastrophe with real human costs, an unprecedented boon to the cartels and smuggling networks that earn billions off migrant-trafficking, and political fallout that will reverberate for years, maybe decades, to come.
All of this will be largely the fault of President Biden, who right now is more interested in moral preening and attacking his predecessor than facing reality at the Rio Grande.