The Biden administration is struggling to address an influx of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the US southern border as figures confirmed a sharp jump in attempted crossings by people in the weeks since Joe Biden took office.
The US Customs and Border Protection announced on Wednesday that 100,441 people had attempted entry along the US southern border in February — a 28 per cent increase from January. The agency reported that 9,457 of those individuals were unaccompanied minors — a 62 per cent increase from January.
In a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Roberta Jacobson, the co-ordinator for the southwestern border on the National Security Council, advised that no one, “especially children and family with young children, should make the dangerous trip to trying to enter the US in an irregular fashion”.
“The border is not open,” Jacobson, the former US ambassador to Mexico, added.
The Biden administration is confronting the uptick in attempted entries while attempting to radically overhaul the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border strategy.
While it has placed blame for the current border crisis on the previous White House, it has struggled to simultaneously tout a promising message to migrants while deterring people from crossing into the country outside the proper legal channels — which Jacobson acknowledged was like trying to “walk and chew gum at the same time”.
“We are trying to convey to everybody in the region that we will have legal processes for people in the future, and we’re standing those up as soon as we can,” she said.
“But at the same time, you cannot come through irregular means. It’s dangerous, and the majority of people will be sent out of the United States, because that is the truth of it. We want to be honest with people. And so we are trying to send both messages,” she added.
In Wednesday’s White House briefing, Jacobson announced that the Biden administration would be seeking $4bn from Congress over the next four years to deal with the migration crisis at the southern border.
It is also restarting a programme to help children arriving from Central America, which will allow eligible children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to reunite with their US-based parents, if the parents are legally residing in the US. Donald Trump had shut down the programme, which began under the Obama administration.
Roughly 3,000 children had already been approved for the programme, Jacobson said.
Republican lawmakers have hit out at the administration for not doing enough to stem the crisis.
Chip Roy, a Republican representative from Texas, accused the Biden administration of being “perfectly fine” with open borders.
“Secure borders is pro-immigrant, pro-America and pro-our values. And the Biden administration doesn’t care,” Roy said at a press conference.
On the other side of the aisle, the White House has also been subject to push back from some Democrats who argue the administration is not spending enough resources to ensure that minors were being kept in facilities that were appropriate for children and that followed pandemic-appropriate health guidelines.