The Biden administration has gone to great lengths to avoid labeling the surge in unaccompanied children coming to the US-Mexico border a “crisis”, despite the number of such children arriving in the US tripling in just the last two weeks, according to reports.
“Look, I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the president,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday in response to a question from a reporter on whether the border crossings constitute a “crisis.”
The administration has adopted a policy of taking in unaccompanied children who have crossed the border into the US, saying it is the only “humane” response to a difficult situation.
Ms Psaki reiterated on Tuesday that it’s “most important to explain the substantive policy of what’s happening, what the root causes are of why kids are coming, and what we’re trying to solve” at the border.
More than 3,250 children who have crossed the border into the US without parents or guardians are currently in custody at the border. That’s more than three times the level from just two weeks ago, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Unaccompanied children who come to the border seeking refuge are transferred after three days to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is currently housing 8,100 such minors as they await processing and sponsorship.
While the administration has ordered Customs and Border Patrol agents to turn away families and adults crossing the border due to Covid precautions, Mr Biden’s stance towards unaccompanied children has been to accept them.
“That is a policy decision which we made because we felt it was the most humane approach to addressing what are very difficult circumstances in the region. And that means there are more children … coming across the border,” Ms Psaki said on Tuesday.
Republicans have pilloried Mr Biden’s handling of the situation at the southern border, saying his campaign pledges to soften immigration policy has incentivised an influx of migrants.
“The cause of this emergency is not some mystery. Everyone knows what’s happened,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said last week.
“This new administration explicitly campaigned on weakening border security. Six weeks in, they’ve reversed the Remain In Mexico policy, begun letting more people in in a haphazard way, and broadcast confusing mixed messages.”
Mr McConnell added: “The truth is that it’s not helpful or compassionate to just open our borders.”
The Biden administration’s approach to child border crossings is to give unaccompanied minors haven in the country and quickly provide them with “access to education resources, health resources, mental health resources, legal aid, et cetera,” Ms Psaki said.
Ms Psaki has repeatedly declined in recent days to give reporters the latest figures on border crossings, instead referring them to the Department of Homeland Security for answers.
But DHS has not been publicly forthcoming with the latest figures, despite their being leaked to the Times.
When asked about those figures again on Tuesday, Ms Psaki pivoted to the “reasons” people are seeking asylum in the US.
“Individuals and families are – they’re fleeing prosecution, fleeing violence, fleeing economic hardships and other things. The region has also experienced two hurricanes in the fall, putting further stress on the conditions in these countries and the circumstances that are facing individuals. And all of this is taking place during a global pandemic that has impacted other countries’ economies, placing undue hardships on its people just as it did in the United States,” Ms Psaki said.