WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is meeting Wednesday with immigration advisers and top Cabinet officials to try to figure out how to cope with the surge of mostly Central American migrants crossing the country’s southwestern border with Mexico into the United States.
Biden has come under increasing pressure in recent days from both Republican critics and his Democratic colleagues in Congress to respond to the stream of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador walking north through Mexico to the U.S.
Biden has urged migrants to stay home but thousands have been walking hundreds of kilometers to reach the border. Biden said Tuesday he would have more to say soon on the issue and is certain to face tough migration questions at the first formal news conference of his presidency on Thursday.
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When he took office two months ago, Biden blocked further construction of the border wall championed by former President Donald Trump and embraced what he said would be more humane treatment of migrants. Biden has told migrants to not make the treacherous trek to the U.S., but many migrants have viewed his policy shift as an invitation to make the journey on the assumption that if they make it into the U.S., they will be allowed to stay.
The U.S. policy currently is to expel single adults and families back to Mexico, but to care for the more than 500 unaccompanied children arriving daily. After processing them at crowded facilities, they are being sent them to be with relatives already living in the United States or placed with vetted people who have agreed to care for them.
Biden on Wednesday dispatched White House officials to accompany a congressional delegation to visit a refugee resettlement center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and plans to allow limited media coverage of the visit.
Previously, the Biden administration refused to let news reporters into the migrant holding centers. Photos taken by Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, at one facility last weekend showed crowded conditions and children sleeping on the floor on thin cushions with only a thin blanket covering them.
Trump drew sharp criticism over similar scenes. He responded by ordering children sent back to Mexico rather than allowing them to stay in the United States.
At the White House, Biden is meeting with the heads of the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services agencies, both of which are tasked with managing the migrants who have streamed across the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico.
Biden administration officials have blamed much of the chaos on the Trump administration, saying it dismantled the asylum system under which migrants petitioned to enter the United States and stay permanently.
Vice President Kamala Harris told the “CBS This Morning” show, “We do what we need to do to actually reconstruct the systems. … We’re dealing with it. But it’s going to take some time. And are we frustrated? Are you frustrated? Yes. We are.”
“It’s a huge problem,” she said.
She said there is a need to address the root causes driving migrants north, chiefly poverty, crime and the destruction of housing by hurricanes in recent years.
The migrant children are arriving in the United States in such numbers that they often are being housed at border holding centers for days longer than the 72 hours allowed under U.S. law before they are turned over to Health and Human Services officials for eventual reunification with relatives or being sent to other caregivers.
The government has turned to convention centers in Texas to house some of the unaccompanied children and on Tuesday sheltered some at military bases in Texas.