Former US president Donald Trump has lashed out at the Biden administration's immigration policies as the country faces an influx of migrants at the Mexico border.
Trump, in a statement released today, claimed that he had "handed the Biden administration the most secure border in history" and that his successor had "turned a national triumph into a national disaster".
"The only way to end the Biden Border Crisis is for them to admit their total failure and adopt the profoundly effective, proven Trump policies," the statement read.
The US has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people crossing the Mexico border, creating a growing humanitarian and political challenge. There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered by border agents in February — an increase of 168 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Centre. That creates an enormous logistical challenge because children, in particular, require higher standards of care and coordination across agencies.
Among the reasons for the surge: 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.
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.
With the number of migrants surging, administration officials say Biden inherited an untenable situation that resulted from what they say was Trump's undermining and weakening of the immigration system.
The White House dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to four Sunday news shows in an effort to stress that it was working to get things under control. Mayorkas said that the southern border is "closed" but emphasised that the US will not deport unaccompanied minors. "Our message has been straightforward — the border is closed," Mayorkas said. "We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. And we've made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children."
In the first days of his term, Biden acted to undo some of Trump's measures, a rollback interpreted by some as a signal to travel to the United States. While the new 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.
"We have seen large numbers of migration in the past. We know how to address it. We have a plan. We are executing on our plan and we will succeed," Mayorkas said. But, he added, "it takes time" and is "especially challenging and difficult now" because of the Trump administration's moves. "So we are rebuilding the system as we address the needs of vulnerable children who arrived at our borders." Trump specifically targeted Mayorkas in today's statement, calling the Homeland Security Secretary "pathetic", "clueless" and "incapable of leading" the department.
Biden officials have done away with the "kids in cages" imagery that defined the Trump family separation policy — though Trump used facilities built during the Obama administration — but have struggled with creating the needed capacity to deal with the recent surge in migrants.
Officials are trying to build up capacity to care for some 14,000 migrants now in federal custody — and more likely on the way. Critics say the administration should have been better prepared.
"I haven't seen a plan," said Republican Michael McCaul of Texas. "They have created a humanitarian crisis down here at this border that you have seen now. And the reason why they are coming is because he says words do matter, and they do. The messaging is that if you want to come, you can stay."
The administration also has been pressed as to why it will not allow media to see the facilities at the border. Mayorkas said the government was "working on providing access so that individuals will be able to see what the conditions in a Border Patrol station are like". Trump called that a "gag order on our Nation's heroic border agents and ICE officers".
Pointing to the urgency of the situation at the border, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin expressed confidence that enough Republicans would vote to pass an immigration overhaul.
"We go into this debate, whether it's a crisis or a challenge at the border. Let me tell you, the crisis. We need to address our immigration laws in this country that are broken," said Durbin. "What we see at the border is one exhibit of it, one exhibit of evidence in that. But there's more across the board."
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 to support efforts to process the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.