Biden’s vision for the border has collapsed. But what is plan B?

As administration, local officials, border officials and leaders of nonprofit organizations grapple with the daily logistical challenges of apprehending and processing or deporting thousands of migrants, officials Americans and immigration experts say they have theories but no concrete explanation for the increase. it is happening now. Many see it as a confluence of destabilizing conditions, some new, some long-standing: a still raging pandemic, a worsening economic crisis and the devastation caused by past natural disasters.

“It’s really rare to see an increase in July. It is rare for migration to continue at such a high level during some of the hottest summer months, ”said Jessica Bolter, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. “I think that shows how serious the situation is. “

As they have been squeezed by the high number of apprehensions in recent days, Biden officials argued that they never said seasonal migration was the only factor – and that they were working hard to combat them. other contributing conditions, such as extreme poverty, malnutrition and violence, which also cause people to leave their countries of origin.

But tackling these root causes of migration is a long-term effort that can take years. And in the meantime, Biden and his aides have found themselves with a delicate balance: staying committed to building an immigration system that the president has promised to be fair and humane, while speaking harshly and searching for tools to stronger application to deter migrants.

They do this while facing growing criticism that their approach is not working. In 18 of the past 22 years, border arrests declined in June and July, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute. In 2017 and 2020, apprehensions increased in June and July. In 2017, numbers rebounded from lows after Donald Trump took office following his campaign against immigration. In 2020, the numbers have increased after declining for the first time in the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns. In both years, those increases fell far short of this year’s figures, according to the review.

In total, U.S. border officials likely encountered around 210,000 migrants in July 2021, the highest number since 2000, a senior U.S. official said in a case filed in federal court earlier this week. July also likely saw a record number of unaccompanied children – more than 19,000 – and the second-highest number of families – around 80,000 – the official said. The Department of Homeland Security said it expects arrests this fiscal year to be possibly “the highest on record.”

“It caught a lot of people off guard,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy adviser at the immigrant advocacy group American Immigration Council. “We really can’t identify a specific triggering event that caused this new influx in July.”

In recent weeks, Republicans have highlighted those numbers by stepping up their attacks on the president, calling the situation a “Biden border crisis” in emails, ads and statements. On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee released an email saying the latest apprehension figures estimated for July “show Biden’s border crisis raging completely out of control.”

Republican Party agents say they believe border issues will help them win back Congress in the midterm elections next year. And polls consistently show it’s one of Biden’s most vulnerable issues.

Fifty-two percent of registered voters, including Republicans, Independents and even Democrats, disapproved of Biden’s immigration work, according to a new Morning Consult / POLITICO poll released Wednesday. Only 37 percent approved.

“The first step in solving a problem is to admit that you have one, and right now this administration is in a state of complete denial regarding the border crisis,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis .) in the Senate. Wednesday.

Johnson, like many Republicans, argues that Biden caused the border situation because of his rollback of some Trump-era policies early in his presidency. Supporters for the president counter that in recent months, Biden hasn’t made any major political changes that would explain the new surge in arrivals. These same supporters say they are nevertheless frustrated, not necessarily by the policy of the administration but by their messages.

“This is policy 101. The other side has a simple message that fills the void,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. “It’s so rare that an administration has a truly thoughtful, innovative and substantive approach. But what they lack is a communication strategy to make sure people understand it.

The White House declined to comment on the increase in the number of migrants or to allow an interview with a political expert to discuss the border. The Department of Homeland Security pointed to White House and State Department documents describing Biden’s immigration strategy. In March, Biden called on Vice President Kamala Harris to address the root causes of migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. She has traveled to Guatemala and Mexico and has since visited the border town of El Paso, Texas. His office declined to comment for this story.

Asked during her daily briefing on how the number of apprehensions runs counter to seasonal trends, White House press secretary Jen Psaki cited a range of factors in the countries of origin on Tuesday. migrants – including “economic challenges, weather challenges, crime” – to drive thousands of people to the US-Mexico border. She added that this was a “long-term challenge” that would require a “long-term solution”.

For years, migrants have been driven to seek refuge in the United States due to conditions in their country of origin. But over the past 16 months, numbers have risen amid the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and as migrants face even more dire economic circumstances.

“The pandemic is probably a big part of it,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Institute of Mexico at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan organization that conducts research on global issues. “You just have a lot more people out of work and suffering because of the economic impact and that probably increases, surely increases, the pull factor.”

The Biden administration continued to use the Trump-era public health order, known as Title 42, to deport migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. And experts and analysts say that too is probably a major factor for the high number of apprehensions recorded each month. Much of the migrants crossing the border are repeat transgressors, who keep trying because there is no real punishment when they get caught.

In June, for example, more than 188,000 migrants were apprehended at the border. Of those, 34% had tried to cross at least once in the past 12 months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. This compares to an average recidivism rate of 14% for fiscal years 2014 to 2019.

Biden continues to refuse most migrants he meets at the border via Title 42, including single adults and many families, but has made exceptions for unaccompanied children to stay on humanitarian grounds. This has led some parents to send their children to the United States on their own, knowing the administration will allow them to stay, immigrant advocates say.

For months, Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and public health experts have urged the Biden administration to end its use of Title 42, arguing that it is illegal, inhuman and unjustified by public health. Biden officials planned to start phasing out Title 42, but those plans derailed given the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus and rising apprehensions.

“I’m disappointed that we’ve been waiting so long to restore asylum at the border, because every day … it’s going to be more difficult politically,” said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, an El Paso-based group that works on border issues.

Before stepping down, Trump was briefed on the expected increase in the number of migrants. In turn, outgoing officials from two agencies, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have informed officials of Biden’s transition of the expected rise. But Biden’s team also blamed the Trump administration for pushing through last-minute policy changes, including closing child shelters, which made matters worse and for not sharing information then. that it was blocking the transition in an unprecedented way.

Last week, the Biden administration released a 21-point plan outlining how it will fairly and effectively review asylum claims, while ensuring a secure and well-managed border. In this context, the White House has recognized that its promised just and humane immigration system “will not be achieved overnight, especially after the irrational and inhumane policies of the previous administration, but this administration has a plan to do so. arrive and make real progress. “


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