House GOP leader blames Biden’s immigration plan for surge in migrants at border

Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy addresses the press during the congressional border delegation visit to El Paso, Texas on March 15, 2021. Justin Hamel/Getty Images
  • House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said Biden is to blame for the surge in migrants at the border.
  • A record number of unaccompanied migrant children are being held in jail-like facilities.
  • The surge presents a challenge to Biden’s pledge to take a more humane approach to immigration.
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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday said President Joe Biden’s immigrant plan is to blame for a surge in arrivals at the border, which has led thousands of migrant children to be housed in facilities that even the White House has said are not acceptable.

“It’s more than a crisis; it’s a human heartbreak,” McCarthy said from El Paso, Texas, as he and other Republican lawmakers visited the US-Mexico border. “The sad part about that is this didn’t have to happen. This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

McCarthy said the situation is a “Biden border crisis.” Republicans say Biden’s immigrant plan, which offers a pathway to citizenship to the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, is the primary catalyst for the surge in migrants at the border. Biden has also reversed Trump era policies that led to the expulsion of unaccompanied minors.

There are over 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol custody, per CBS News, with thousands being held in jail-like facilities meant for adults for extended periods of time.

By law, unaccompanied migrant children are supposed to be transferred out of Customs and Border Patrol custody within 72 hours to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an office of the Department of Health and human services, before being sent to an approved sponsor. But many are being held beyond the 72-hour legal limit.

The coronavirus pandemic has also complicated and slowed down the process, as officials struggle to uphold precautions while also finding suitable care for the children.

The convoluted set of circumstances has made it harder for Biden to make good on his promise to take a more humane approach to immigration than former President Donald Trump. The president has faced criticism from progressive Democrats and human rights groups for reopening Trump era facilities to house unaccompanied migrant children, which foster memories of the previous administration’s controversial family separation policy

Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas over the weekend directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help care for the record number of unaccompanied minors showing up at the border.

The White House has explicitly avoided referring to the surge as a crisis, instead describing it as a “challenge” and maintaining that Biden is working to resolve the situation as expeditiously and humanely as possible.

“We recognize this is a big problem,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during Monday’s press briefing. “The last administration left us a dismantled and unworkable system. And like any other problem, we are going to do everything we can to solve it. So our focus here is on solutions.”

Psaki said the conditions many migrant children are being held in are “not acceptable,” but added that the administration has limited options.

“The options here are: Send the kids back on the journey, send them to unvetted homes, or work to expedite moving them into shelters where they can get health treatment by medical doctors …. educational resources, legal counseling, mental health counseling,” Psaki said. “That’s exactly what we’re focused on doing. And this is an across-the-administration effort that we are committed, from the top, to making changes on as quickly as possible.”

Human rights groups are calling for the Biden administration to pick up the pace in terms of resolving the evolving humanitarian crisis at the border, while acknowledging the challenges presented by the complexities of the system.

“The government needs to move faster, and it is taking steps to move faster,” Denise Bell, a researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA, told ABC News. “In the interim, we have to acknowledge that we don’t want to endanger children by releasing them onto the street when they arrive, or to sponsors that haven’t been vetted, but we need more capacity, and we need to move faster.”