“That is absolutely incorrect,” press secretary Jen Psaki said during a testy exchange with Fox News’ Peter Doocy during a Thursday press briefing. “The border is not open. The vast majority of individuals apprehended or encountered at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned.”
The Border Patrol says it apprehended nearly 700 unaccompanied minors on Wednesday, well above its 450-child daily average. Ms Psaki said the administration’s focus was treating them humanely even as others are told to go home.
“The majority of people who come to our border will be turned away,” she said. “We also recognise that because the president has made a decision that the way to humanely approach immigration is to allow for unaccompanied minors to come and be treated with humanity and be in a safe place while we’re trying to get them into homes and sponsored, that some more may have come to our border.”
On Tuesday, Texas governor Greg Abbott slammed the Biden administration’s border agenda and blamed it for a surge in arrivals.
“This crisis is a result of President Biden’s open border policies,” he said. “It invites illegal immigration and is creating a humanitarian crisis in Texas right now that will grow increasingly worse by the day.”
The Biden administration has rolled back a number of Donald Trump’s most hard-line immigration policies — ending the Muslim travel ban and systemic family separation, halting construction on the wall — as well as proposing legislation that would give undocumented people a full path to citizenship.
But the president largely hasn’t touched orders affecting border policy itself.
Mr Biden has ordered a review, rather than a repeal, of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), which effectively sealed the border to asylum seekers, making nearly 65,000 wait in Mexico for their court hearings. The administration hasn’t added new people to the protocols, but also hasn’t offered a plan for addressing those already under the policy.
It has also left in place the so-called “Title 42” order, which former president Trump issued to stop the spread of coronavirus, and gives broad latitude to US officials to deport almost everyone crossing illegally.
Civil rights and public health advocates have criticised both Title 42 and the MPPs for creating inhumane conditions on the border.
Ms Psaki said that the uptick in migration was straining US capacity to house unaccompanied migrant children.
“There are more children coming across the border than we have facilities for at this point in time,” she said on Tuesday.
As a result, children have been held in jail-like Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities longer than the three days allowed by law before being transferred to shelters or resettled as they await their immigration court proceedings.
A number of factors have contributed to the recent rise in border-crossings, which numbered at least 100,00 in February, according to CBP, levels not seen since 2019.
The pandemic has started to ease in some places, and has wrought economic devastation in most others, encouraging single adults, the overwhelming majority of migrants at the US-Mexico border, to seek opportunity in the US, as have a number of recent hurricanes in Central America.
The Trump administration also made migration exponentially more difficult, expanding the border wall, encouraging Central American countries to restrict movement, slashing refugee numbers, and adding new, difficult requirements to the asylum process, so the rebound in numbers could reflect the change in presidents.
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