The border crisis that anyone could have seen coming is finally here, thanks largely to the actions of the Biden administration over the past few months. It turns out that promising to roll back Trump-era immigration restrictions, signing a raft of executive orders to that effect, and then introducing a mass amnesty bill sends the message that if you can get across the U.S.-Mexico border, you can stay.
Plenty of families in Mexico and Central America have gotten the message. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, for the past four months U.S. Border Patrol has taken into custody more than 70,000 illegal immigrants a month—the most for this period in a decade.
A growing number of those are children. Since November, the number of minors in federal custody has tripled to 7,000 after the Biden administration decided it would stop expelling minors and teenagers apprehended at the border without their parents. One official from the Department of Health and Human Services told Axios on Thursday, “We’re seeing the highest February numbers than we’ve ever seen in the history of the [Unaccompanied Alien Child] program.”
To cope with the surge, the administration has had to re-open an emergency shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that was last used during the 2019 border crisis. Back then, the Trump administration was condemned by Democrats and the corporate press for keeping “kids in cages.”
The cages are back, but now they’re being called “facilities.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tried hard this week to spin the re-opening of the Texas facility as “absolutely not the same” as when the Trump administration used it. The emergency shelter is needed now, she said, because of COVID-19 precautions that require social distancing.
But that line is a dodge. At this rate, the administration is going to need emergency shelters like the one in Carrizo Springs with or without the pandemic, because the numbers are increasing fast. Just this week news broke that Border Patrol alone is holding more than 700 unaccompanied minors in federal custody. On Tuesday alone, more than 400 minors in Border Patrol custody were referred to shelters run by HHS.
Compare that to the 30-day referral average of 294 minors at the peak of the 2019 border crisis. You might recall that in May 2019, federal agents arrested 133,000 people crossing the southwest border illegally. More than 11,000 of these were unaccompanied minors.
Put another way, if Border Patrol continues to pick up unaccompanied minors north of the Rio Grande at this rate, a month from now we’ll have a much worse crisis on the border than we did in 2019.
Meanwhile, the administration seems disconnected from reality. Asked by Peter Doocy of Fox News about the Carrizo Springs facility, Psaki claimed it has been “revamped” and now has “medical facilities,” which is nonsense because it of course had medical facilities when it operated under the Trump administration, as all such shelters are required to have.
When questioned directly about why elsewhere on the border kids were being held in much cruder Border Patrol facilities, which Doocy noted consist of tents and chain-link fences, for longer than is allowed by federal law, in some cases four or five days, Psaki blamed the cold weather and power outages in Texas, and insisted the administration’s “objective” is to move these minors “as quickly as possible” into shelters run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But that’s always the objective. No federal border official, whether under Trump or Biden, wants to house kids in unsuitable Border Patrol stations designed for short-term detention of adults. Yet that’s what’s going to happen, sooner than the White House seems to realize. The immigration officials in charge of dealing with the coming border surge are more clear-eyed about what’s happening. On Tuesday, The Washington Times reported on internal emails from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Chief of Staff Timothy Perry, telling ICE leadership to “prepare for border surges now.”
Part of that preparation involves plans to transport illegal immigrants away from the border for processing and release in the interior of the country. Anything, it seems, to avoid images of families and children being held in overcrowded facilities. As Perry wrote in one email, “No fences.”
That might be difficult. As Axios reported late Thursday, border officials expect to have 13,000 unaccompanied children cross the border in May, far surpassing the totals at the height of the 2019 crisis. What Biden and the Democrats don’t quite grasp is that if you expect in February to have 13,000 kids crossing the border in May, the crisis is already here.