‘National disaster’: Biden under pressure
US President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure over a surge of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the country's southern border with Mexico.
But the Biden administration has refused to use similar language.
"Children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing persecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during today's media briefing.
"We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance, and make sure that they are treated and put in conditions that are safe.
"These Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children. They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this perilous journey. That is not, in our view, the right choice to make."
Almost 10,000 immigrants are currently in the custody of American Border Patrol officials, and 5000 of them are unaccompanied minors.
Last week Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said the US was on track to "encounter more individuals on the southwest border" than it had in the last 20 years.
The surge has caused overcrowding in the facilities designed to hold migrants, whose potential capacity had already been cut by the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more and more minors are now being held in Border Patrol facilities.
The administration's policy is to expel families and single adults who arrive at the border, but not unaccompanied minors.
Mr Biden briefly addressed the situation in remarks to reporters yesterday.
"I know what's going on in those facilities," the President said, promising he would visit the border "at some point".
In a more extensive exchange on the ABC show This Week, he asked immigrants not to come to the border.
"A lot of the migrants coming in are saying they're coming in because you promised to make things better. It seems to be getting worse by the day. Was it a mistake not to anticipate this surge?" asked host George Stephanopoulos.
Mr Biden said there had been a surge in the last two years as well. Stephanopoulos countered that the current one "might be worse".
"Do you have to say, quite clearly, don't come?" he asked.
"Yes. I can say quite clearly, don't come. And while we're in the process of getting set up, don't leave your town or your community," the President replied.
EXCLUSIVE: Photos from inside a temporary border overflow facility in Texas reveal the crowded, makeshift conditions at the border as the government's longer-term child shelters and family detention centers fill up. https://t.co/VFZdnX40ry— Axios (@axios) March 22, 2021
Speaking in Florida today, Vice President Kamala Harris pointed the finger at Mr Trump's administration.
"We were left with a very challenging situation," she said.
"We've got to treat this issue in a way that is reflective of our values as Americans, and do it in a way that is fair and humane.
"It's going to take a lot of work. We were presented, when we came in, with serious challenges."
And Mr Mayorkas did the rounds on the Sunday news shows yesterday, where he also defended the government's handling of the border.
"We are rebuilding orderly ways in which the children can make their claims without having to make the perilous journey to the border," he told State of the Union.
"And we are elevating our message so that individuals do know that they cannot come to the border. The border is closed.
"We will continue to communicate to the children, do not come. Do not come. Give us time to build an orderly system that will enable you to make your claim under United States law without taking the journey and imperilling your lives."
He blamed the Trump administration for "dismantling" efforts to enable asylum applications from the immigrants' countries of origin.
"It is taking time, and it is difficult, because the entire system was dismantled by the prior administration," Mr Mayorkas said.
"There was a system in place that was torn down by the Trump administration.
"We are rebuilding those orderly systems both in Mexico, in close partnership with the Mexican government, and in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador."
Confronted with the number of children currently being held in Border Patrol stations, Mr Mayorkas said the government was working to build temporary facilities to house them in.
One such facility in Pecos, Texas was opened on Saturday. It will initially house 500 minors, but could be expanded to hold 2000.
"The message is quite clear: do not come."— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 21, 2021
As the border sees a surge in migrants seeking asylum, @MarthaRaddatz presses DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas on the administration's messaging on immigration. https://t.co/iGFQxoY8PYpic.twitter.com/nhhdmgTdOZ
Speaking to Meet the Press, he stressed that the US was not going to deport unaccompanied minors under any circumstances.
"We will not expel into the Mexican desert, for example, three orphaned children," he said.
"We are safely processing the children who do come to the border. We strongly urge, and the message is clear, not to do so now. I cannot overstate the perils of the journey that they take."
The administration's stance has been criticised by Republican politicians of all persuasions, including moderates such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney.
"The Biden administration's lack of understanding of the power of incentives continues to baffle me," Mr Romney said today.
"Allowing unaccompanied minors to stay in the US will yield a flood of unaccompanied minors. It's a de facto child separation policy."
Yesterday, Mr Trump released a lengthy statement condemning his successor.
"We proudly handed the Biden administration the most secure border in history. All they had to do was keep this smooth-running system on autopilot," the former president said.
"Instead, in the span of just a few weeks, the administration has turned a national triumph into a national disaster. They are in way over their heads and taking on water fast."
Mr Trump was apparently unimpressed by Mr Mayorkas' answers in his various TV appearances.
"The pathetic, clueless performance of Secretary Mayorkas on the Sunday shows today was a national disgrace. His self-satisfied presentation - in the middle of a massive crisis he helped engineer - is yet more proof he is incapable of leading (the Department of Homeland Security)," said Mr Trump.
He claimed the government was "engaged in a huge cover-up" to "hide just how bad things truly are", citing a DHS order restricting the amount of information border agents can share with the media.
"In addition to the obvious, drugs are pouring into our country at record levels from the southern border, not to mention human and sex trafficking. This administration's reckless policies are enabling and encouraging crimes against humanity," he said.
"Our country is being destroyed!"
Originally published as 'National disaster': Biden under pressure