Philip Bump at WaPo provides a really good backgrounder on what’s going on with the Mexican border and how old immigration patterns everyone was used to have been scrambled, possibly forever. It’s worth reading all the way through.
At the moment, there’s no question the number of people trying to enter the U.S. from the southern border is increasing from what it was late last year. However, that number is still below what it was in May 2019. See this WaPo graphic:
I don’t remember Republicans screaming about the border crisis in 2019, do you? It appears there was one. It’s also the case that the Biden Administration did not inherit falling numbers from the Trump Administration, as Republicans are claiming. The increase we’re seeing now is part of an already established upward trajectory.
The crisis is a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied minors being detained. Right now, there are about 10,000 children with the Department of Health and Human Services, and another 5,000 with Customs and Border Protection. This is double the previous record.
Note that last November a federal judge ruled against the Trump Administration policy of expelling unaccompanied minors. Biden doesn’t really have a legal choice about the unaccompanied minors.
Another complication is the Flores Agreement from 1997, which stipulates that detention facilities for minors meet certain standards and that minors should not be detained longer than 72 hours. Exactly how much the Flores Agreement has ever been upheld I do not know. The Trump Administration totally blew it off, obviously, and got away with it. The Biden Administration is scrambling to uphold the Flores Agreement, although they are still falling short. I assume they will continue to throw resources at the border until conditions are better. I assume bringing conditions up to code is do-able.
The point, though, is that from the perspective of the Biden Administration the crisis at this point is mostly about unaccompanied minors. Currently, other people apprehended crossing the border without documentation are being detained and expelled from the U.S., just as they were under the Trump Administration. This is true no matter how hysterically Jeanne Pirro shrieks otherwise.
Unaccompanied minors are coming here from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador because they are fleeing gang or drug-related violence, including rape and sexual abuse. They are also fleeing hardships caused by economic crises and crop losses caused by climate change. If they are expelled, many of these young people could die. If they survive, they may be driven into the gangs that righties are always shrieking about.
Will Bunch writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Biden Administration is making a mistake in not allowing more transparency and press access to what’s going on at the border.
The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the RNC.
With America’s former demagogue-in-chief retired to a golf pasture and banned from Twitter, House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has gamely stepped up to the plate — claiming that “this crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration” and tweeting nonsensically about “open borders” when the reality is instead that thousands are detained. But attacks like McCarthy’s are now driving off-kilter coverage like Sunday’s breathless, four-byline lead story in the Washington Post that centers the notion that Biden’s policies are to blame — with amnesia about the Post’s own reporting last fall while Trump was president that awful conditions in Central America were already driving an uptick in refugees, let alone the role that the inhumane policies of POTUS 45 have played in making things worse. What’s more, overall border crossings right now are similar to 2019 — when Trump was in the White House.
Will Bunch points out that many critics of the Biden Administration are hailing the “success” of Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy that blocked all asylum seekers and left families crowded together in squalid camps south of the border. Apparently inhumane conditions are okay if they’re in another country.
See also EXPLAINER: Is the US Border With Mexico in Crisis? by the Associated Press.
Trump, responding to a massive increase in Central American families and children that peaked in May 2019, expanded his “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. It was unquestionably effective at deterring asylum — less than 1% have won their cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse — but asylum-seekers were exposed to violence in Mexico, as documented by advocacy group Human Rights First and others. Attorneys were extremely difficult to find in Mexico.
Other Trump-era policies included fast-track asylum proceedings inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection holding facilities, where access to attorneys was next to impossible. Agreements were struck with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for the U.S. to send asylum-seekers to the Central American countries with an opportunity to seek protection there instead.
The Biden Administration is expanding detention facilities while working to release children and minor teens to relatives or possibly foster care in the United States. “The Biden administration is also stepping up efforts to have children apply for asylum from their homes in Central America instead of making the dangerous journey to the U.S. border,” the Associated Press says. Long-term, the Biden Administration wants to address the root causes of the violence and economic deprivation in Central America. but that’s probably down the road a bit.
But for right now, the issue is that there is a huge wave of children seeking refuge in the United States, and the previous administration left us entirely unprepared to cope with it. This is not the result of a policy failure on the part of President Biden.