Undocumented migration has increased significantly since President Joe Biden -- who campaigned on a pledge of offering more assistance to those seeking refugee status in the U.S. -- took office, overwhelming facilities at the border already under strain due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden administration has tapped the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help lead the response. The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is now working to expand available lodging for migrants.
“It’s the Biden open-border policies that are inviting even more illegal immigration and actually have created this humanitarian crisis,” Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Abbott said the surge endangers Border Patrol officers because they are being exposed to COVID and initially were not vaccinated.
“Our border patrol agents are put in harm's way in several ways. One, because they're having to deal with the increase in the (Mexican drug) cartel activities," said Abbott. "Another way in which our border patrol agents are put in harm's way and that is the Biden administration was not providing COVID vaccines for the border patrol in the Rio Grande valley region. Because of my public outcry about that when I was down on the border, now, finally, the Biden administration has changed gears and they are doing exactly what I called for.”
Abbott also said the state has demanded numbers on COVID infections of those crossing the border
“I’m expecting answers from the Biden administration immediately this week. We need the total number of migrants who have been apprehended at the border who have tested positive for COVID-19," Abbott said. "The state of Texas is responsible for fully reporting out anybody in our state who has COVID-19.
"The administration has refused and failed to give to our state the total number of migrants who have COVID-19," Abbott continued. "We expect that data and we expect the Biden administration to step up and assist the state of Texas in being able to respond to that imported challenge, imported only because of the change in policies by the Biden administration.”
In February, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers encountered more than 100,000 migrants attempting to enter the U.S., an almost threefold increase from a year earlier. More than 5,700 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border in January, the highest total for that month in recent years.
The White House has come under fire as hundreds of immigrant children are detained in rudimentary Border Patrol facilities beyond the three-day limit dictated by a 1997 court settlement. Unaccompanied minors are supposed to be transferred to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which has longer-term housing facilities and attempts to connect underage migrants with family already in the U.S.
“We are working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Saturday.
“Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
The decision to use FEMA resources may help reduce the strain on some facilities, while energizing Republican critics. Mayorkas and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have refused to call the border situation a crisis while acknowledging it’s become challenging.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Biden’s administration inherited “a broken system at the border, and they are working to correct that.”
But Republicans put the blame squarely on the new administration, picking up on recent comments from former President Donald Trump, who issued a statement on March 5 warning of a “spiraling tsunami” at the border.
“The border patrol officers told me that the Biden administration’s policies -- they are enriching, they are empowering the drug cartels in Mexico who make money off the people they assist in smuggling into the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
‘Border is Open’
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is expected to lead a delegation of fellow Republicans to the border on Monday to highlight the immigration issue.
In addition to the FEMA assistance ordered Saturday, the administration in recent days announced plans to increase the number of HHS facilities where children can be transferred and to boost the number of children that can be housed in existing facilities, despite coronavirus predictions.
“It’s unacceptable, but we also I think need to acknowledge that the flow of humanity arriving at our front door never stopped,” Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar, whose Texas district borders Mexico, said on CNN.
“The Donald Trump administration didn’t stop them. And what we are seeing today is the consequence of four years dismantling every system in place to address this with humanity and compassion,” she said, adding that migrant figures ebb and flow.
Also on Fox, Senator John Cornyn of Texas said the current trend could continue. “The August heat is deadly,” he said. “In the springtime we usually see the numbers go up so I believe we’re going to see an upward tick.”
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