Posted on April 30, 2021

At the Border, a Widely Predicted Crisis That Caught Biden off Guard

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, April 26, 2021

While there is high support for President Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the new president has enjoyed higher approval ratings than his predecessor, there are widespread worries about his management of the U.S. southern border, which has been his worst polling issue.

As experts had warned for months, a massive influx of migrants has arrived at the border in recent weeks, including a record number of teenagers and children traveling without their parents who need to be sheltered for weeks. Last month, 172,331 migrants were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the highest total in nearly 20 years.

Biden’s GOP opponents have blamed him for the influx and criticized his response, and Republican strategists say immigration will be a galvanizing issue for the 2022 midterm elections. {snip}

{snip} Many liberal Democrats and activists are quick to denounce new deterrent measures as a betrayal, limiting Biden’s ability to quickly change course.


In the weeks before Biden took office, he and his administration were aware of the risks they could face at the Mexico border. Trump and his top officials were predicting “disaster” if the Biden team followed through on campaign promises to roll back control measures.

Biden seemed eager to temper expectations when he laid out his immigration policy plans a month before inauguration. His administration wanted to ensure “guardrails” were in place, he said, to avoid having “2 million people on our border.”


When Trump faced a record influx of Central American families arriving at the border in 2019, he implemented controversial measures limiting access to the U.S. asylum system, while pressuring Mexico to carry out an enforcement crackdown. Then the pandemic hit, and Trump used a CDC health order to give U.S. agents the authority to rapidly return the vast majority of border crossers to Mexico.

Pressures on the border continued building through 2020 anyway. A pair of hurricanes devastated Honduras and Guatemala, compounding the economic pain of the pandemic. The number of illegal crossings rose through the final months of the year, as did the number of teens and children arriving without parents.



The prudent tone Biden’s team sounded in December was harder to detect on Inauguration Day, as the guardrails started coming off. Biden issued more executive orders and actions on immigration than any other topic, including a 100-day deportation moratorium and a halt to border wall construction.


Word soon spread that families with children younger than 7 years old were being allowed to enter the United States and released from custody. Families fitting that profile began rushing to that span of the border, where U.S. agents were already overwhelmed by soaring numbers of teens and children arriving alone.


Even as border stations and holding cells began to fill with new crossers, the Biden administration continued to repeal Trump-era enforcement measures. {snip}

By mid-February, families that had been left waiting in crude camps along the Rio Grande by the “Remain in Mexico” policy were allowed to begin entering the United States, in emotional and dramatic scenes that further underscored Biden’s new approach.

The number of minors arriving without their parents continued to balloon, and with the capacity of the Department of Health and Human Services’ shelter network reduced by the pandemic, teens and children began backing up inside CBP tents, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on floor mats. They were stranded beyond the 72-hour legal limit while waiting for beds to open up in HHS shelters.

More migrant families were arriving, too, and with Mexico only taking back a limited number, the Biden administration released more and more parents with children into border towns and cities. Biden officials continued to insist they were expelling the majority of the families crossing the border. It wasn’t true; statistics show fewer than half were being sent back.



Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration’s message to asylum seekers was to stay home until the United States could restore full protections. {snip}

The message didn’t work, and border crossings skyrocketed through the first several weeks of March as a record number of unaccompanied minors were taken into custody. Migrants arriving as part of a family groups jumped to 53,623 in March, a sevenfold increase from January. So many single adults were crossing and attempting to evade capture that border agents said they were struggling to respond as they recorded nearly 1,000 “got-away” incidents each day.


At a March 25 news conference, Biden falsely described the increase as a seasonal norm, not a result of his policies or approach. {snip}




The Biden administration now has more than 21,000 teens and children in HHS shelters — a record — plus another 1,700 in Border Patrol stations and facilities. Although the administration is quickly growing its number of shelter beds, it lacks enough child-care providers to supervise them and case workers to screen their family members to determine their eligibility to take custody. {snip}

In mid-April, Biden opted to not admit more refugees, triggering a backlash among Democrats that forced the White House to reverse course. The president then, for the first time, called the migration surge a “crisis.”