The White House is bracing for a worsening situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as President Biden faces criticism from both political parties over the influx of migrant children.
Biden’s No. 1 priority remains the coronavirus pandemic. But the flow of asylum-seekers threatens to overwhelm the country’s immigration system after it was overhauled by former President Donald Trump in ways that irritated Democrats.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was dispatched this week to brief reporters at the White House, repeatedly blaming Trump’s administration for the country’s immigration predicament and warning it would “take time” to undo its “cruelty.”
The White House also picked first lady Jill Biden to be the public face of its family reunification task force. Using the first lady allows the White House to provide political cover to other officials who likely have future political aspirations that could be harmed by delving into such a tricky issue as immigration, chiefly Vice President Kamala Harris. She could well be the Democratic Party’s 2024 presidential nominee, should Biden opt against another run.
Using Jill Biden also allows the administration to use her national popularity — 57% of those polled last month by Gallup had a favorable opinion of her versus 22% with a negative view — to tackle a hot-button issue.
The White House’s maneuvers coincide with a jump in the number of child migrants referred to the Health and Human Services Department for long-term care: 321 by the end of February up from a daily average of 47 during the first week of January. And it’s forced Biden’s team to reopen Trump-era facilities to house them.
As part of Mayorkas’s attempt to lower public expectations, the secretary refused to describe the issue as “a crisis.” Cesar Conda, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s chief of staff during Congress’s last immigration reform push in 2013, didn’t hesitate to use the word, evidence of tensions between Democrats and Republicans over the narrative.
“The Biden administration has caused an unnecessary crisis at the southern border,” Conda told the Washington Examiner. “It’s going to become a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Mayorkas admitted there is “a challenge” at the border. He also tried clarifying a position White House press secretary Jen Psaki has expressed from the briefing room podium. She had repeatedly discouraged migrants from traveling to the U.S. until Biden had better application procedures in place amid the pandemic.
“We are not saying don’t come. We are saying don’t come now,” Mayorkas said, reiterating how the administration is prioritizing migrant children over families and single adults due to COVID-19.
Mayorkas’s remarks provided a clear window in the White House’s early immigration messaging plan: Pin any problems on Trump, and issue an all-hands-on-deck call to shield the president and vice president from blame.
“We are dedicated to achieving and, quite frankly, are working around the clock to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane, and safe immigration process,” he said. “It is hard, and it will take time. But rest assured, we are going to get it done.”
He added, “The first lady has driven us to action through her personal commitment to this moral imperative. And that moral imperative is to reunite the families and restore them to the fullest capacity that we, as the United States government, can do.”
Conda insisted the tactics wouldn’t halt the influx. And he predicted it could have ramifications for the White House’s other immigration endeavors.
“This also will have a negative spillover effect on legislative efforts to accommodate Dreamers and other immigration reforms because Republicans will demand securing the border before granting any legalization,” he said, alluding to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beneficiaries.
Former California Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland said the administration should not focus on the importance of immigration action. Instead, it should “talk about America’s stories.” He added that Biden aides should also publicly stress that the last major immigration bill was signed into law by a Republican president: Ronald Reagan in 1986.
“Democrats need to have ongoing conversations with the American people like two people talking over the backyard fences,” Mulholland said.
Still, the White House’s rhetoric and early moves, nor experts’ advice, will likely not resonate with Republicans, who are already voicing concerns regarding the border after Trump railed about what was one of his pet issues as a candidate, then president during his Conservative Political Action Conference comeback speech last Sunday.
Even Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was dismayed by the White House reopening the Trump emergency migrant detention facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, as data point to immigration being the country’s most divisive policy, and Biden’s “Day One” reform package languishes in the House.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party. https://t.co/AEV7s7QQnB
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 23, 2021
House Judiciary Committee Republicans are agitating for oversight, though their power is diminished by their minority status. That has not stopped aides from flagging “bad” Biden immigration headlines to reporters.
Republicans do not control the Senate either, yet they could be more influential in that evenly divided chamber if Democrats stand any chance of clearing its 60-vote legislative hurdle.
Homeland Security Committee ranking member Rob Portman of Ohio has homed in on the White House suspending agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and it’s starting to process asylum-seekers through updated Migration Protection Protocols. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson also wrote to Mayorkas this week asking why some coronavirus precautions weren’t being taken with admissions at the border.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, has introduced a bill that provides “a permanent solution” for Dreamers and beefs up border security measures.
“Maybe the administration is finally realizing that the American people don’t want a reckless approach to immigration that threatens American safety, kills American jobs, and prevents countless families from pursuing the opportunity to chase their American dream,” a Scott aide said.
Author: Naomi Lim
Source: Washington Examiner: White House scrambles on immigration, blames Trump, and calls in first lady