President Joe Biden said in an interview airing Friday that his administration inherited "one God-awful mess at the border" from former President Donald Trump and said the situation was worsened by the lack of cooperation from the outgoing administration during the presidential transition period.
"(There was) a failure to have a real transition, cooperation from the last administration, like every other administration has done," Biden told NBC "Today" co-anchor Craig Melvin. "The two departments that didn't give us access to virtually anything were the immigration and the Defense Department."
He further said that his team did not know until after he was sworn in that Trump had fired several people from both departments, and that they were "understaffed considerably."
Several Republicans, including Trump, have blamed Biden for the growing surge at the border after he reversed Trump's policies, including the remain in Mexico agreement that kept people across the border while their asylum cases were pending.
The president declined to call the border situation a crisis, telling Melvin instead that the matter is "getting urgent action."
"A month ago, we had thousands of young kids in custody in places they shouldn't be, controlled by the Border Patrol," said Biden. "We have now cut that down dramatically ... we've now gotten control."
He claimed there had not been plans made for a flow of immigrants, "which it comes every year, this flow, whether it is 22,000 or 10,000," and said enough beds were not made available.
"They didn't plan for the overflow," he said. "They didn't plan for the Department of Health and Human Services to have places to take the kids from the Border Patrol and put them in beds where there were security and people who could take care of them. So there is a significant change right now, significant change in the circumstance for children coming to and at the border."
He also acknowledged that the administration has struggled to reunite children and families that were separated under Trump's policies, even though during his campaign he pledged to bring the families back together.
"We don't know yet where those kids are," he admitted. "We're trying like hell to figure out what happened. It's almost like being a sleuth, and we're still continuing to try like hell to find out where they are."
He also said he doesn't "think that is true" when Melvin told him that to date, none of the children and families have been reunited," but then acknowledged "that could be."
"What we have done is we have united children with their families as they've come across the border," he said. "But one of the things is, we don't know yet where those kids are."
He also insisted that his administration is telling parents in Central America and Mexico not to send their children to the United States.
"They're in jeopardy, making the 1,000-mile trek," he said. "So what we are doing now, we're going back to those countries in question, where most are coming from, and saying, 'Look, you can apply from your country. You don't have to make this trek.'"
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