(Headline USA) Within weeks of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, the Biden administration had reversed many Trump-era immigration policies, including deporting unaccompanied minor illegal aliens and forcing migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims processed.
While the administration was working on immigration legislation to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, it didn’t have an on-the-ground plan to manage a surge of migrants.
Career immigration officials had warned there could be a surge after the presidential election and the news that the Trump’s policies were being reversed.
Now officials are scrambling to build up capacity to care for some 14,000 migrants now in federal custody — and more likely on the way — and the administration finds itself on its heels in the face of criticism that it should have been better prepared to deal with a predictable open-borders crisis.
“They should have forecasted for space (for young migrants) more quickly,” said Ronald Vitiello, a former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and chief of Border Patrol who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations. “And I think in hindsight, maybe they should have waited until they had additional shelter space before they changed the policies.”
Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials.
There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168% and 63%, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center.
That creates an enormous logistical challenge because children, in particular, require higher standards of care and coordination across agencies.
Still, the encounters of both unaccompanied minors and families are lower than they were at various points during the Trump administration, including in spring 2019.
That May, authorities encountered more than 55,000 migrant children, including 11,500 unaccompanied minors, and about 84,500 migrants traveling in family units.
Career immigration officials, overwhelmed by the earlier surges, have long warned the flow of migrants to the border could ramp up again.
Illegal alien children are sent from border holding cells to other government facilities until they are released into the United States.
That process was slowed considerably by a Trump administration policy of “enhanced vetting,” in which details were sent to immigration officials and some sponsors wound up getting arrested.
Biden has reversed that policy, so immigration officials hope the process will speed up now.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly laid blame for the current situation on the previous administration, even though Trump secured the border.
The White House also points to Biden’s decision to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known for helping communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster, to support efforts to process the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.
Biden and others have pushed back on the notion that what’s happening now is a “crisis.”
“We will have, I believe, by next month enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go,” Biden said in a recent ABC News interview, when asked whether his administration should have anticipated the surge in young unaccompanied migrants as well as families and adults.
He added, “Let’s get something straight though. The vast majority of people crossing the border are being sent back … immediately sent back.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.