The Biden administration is facing what it admits is an “overwhelming” number of migrants at the southern border while scrambling to construct new facilities to hold child migrants — but it is doggedly refusing to describe the situation as a “crisis.”
“It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an enormous challenge,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday, before saying: “We don’t feel the need to, you know, play games with what it’s called.”
While numbers have been increasing at the border for months, particularly of unaccompanied children (UACs) and family units, they have spiked since President Biden took office. The number of UACs in custody has tripled in recent weeks, while there were more than 100,000 migrant encounters in February.
Critics have blamed the dramatic liberalizing of immigration policy and rollback of Trump-era border protections for encouraging the flow and removing the tools that allow migrants to be kept out or returned to their home countries.
The Biden administration has claimed it is moving to replace the “cruelty” of the prior administration with a more “humane” system and warned that will take time. But it has refused to acknowledge that there is in fact a “crisis” — preferring instead to describe it as a “challenge.”
“I think that the — the answer is no. I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week.
Psaki said earlier this week about a “crisis”: “I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the president.”
Last week, Biden said “no” when asked the same question.
It’s a sharp contrast from 2019, when President Trump was keen to brand that year’s migrant surge as a crisis as he pushed for stronger measures at the border.
“This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said in January 2019, months before the surge hit its peak.
So far in 2021, the numbers have been higher than in 2019, indicating the crisis or “challenge” could be significantly greater this year, and the administration has made moves to indicate it recognizes that. It has opened up migrant centers to deal both with family units and UACs, and has looked at a Virginia military base and other sites to house child migrants.
And while not calling it a crisis, officials have still been sounding the alarm about the situation.
“We continue to struggle with the number of individuals in our custody, especially in a pandemic,” Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said this week as he announced border numbers.
Mayorkas, who last week flat-out denied there was a crisis, this week emailed DHS staff urging them to volunteer to help CBP at the border amid what he described as “overwhelming” numbers.
“Today, I activated the Volunteer Force to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as they face a surge in migration along the Southwest Border,” Mayorkas said in an email to staff, seen by Fox News.
“You have likely seen the news about the overwhelming numbers of migrants seeking access to this country along the Southwest Border,” he said. “President Biden and I are committed to ensuring our Nation has a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system while continuing to balance all of the other critical DHS missions.”
But officials have continued with sometimes acrobatic answers in response to questions about whether there is a crisis at the border.
“You know, I think the…I’m not trying to be cute here, but I think the fact of the matter is: We have to do what we do regardless of what anybody calls the situation,” Roberta Jacobson, coordinator for the southern border, said in a press briefing Wednesday.
“And the fact is, we are all focused on improving the situation, on changing to a more humane and efficient system. And whatever you call it wouldn’t change what we’re doing because we have urgency, from the President on down, to fix our system and make sure that we are better at dealing with the hopes and the dreams of these migrants in their home country,” she said.
Biden was asked at a hardware store again this week by reporters if there was a crisis at the border. He did not respond, and reporters were ushered away by his team.
“Come on press, let’s go,” an aide said.