Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra's pragmatic tone on immigration, which is at odds with his push as a congressman and as California's attorney general to support legalization efforts, is resulting in a shaky situation between himself and senior aides at the White House who want faster action, particularly with the intake of migrant children.
Becerra has urged both patience on the border situation and has encouraged the Biden administration to maintain the Trump administration's low cap on refugee admissions, and the slower approach is leading to accusations that he was indecisive, reports Politico.
The secretary, while a California representative, challenged Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two candidates for the presidency in 2016 by accusing them of "running from their heritage" with their immigration rhetoric. Further, while he was the attorney general in California, he filed several legal actions against most of the Trump administration's legal policies.
"It’s a personal issue for him," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and a friend of Becerra’s commented. "As he has seen the plight of today’s immigrants, I know that he sees in these immigrants his parents’ experiences."
But Becerra's more measured actions since joining the Biden team have led many in the administration to believe that he's been acting too slow, and that hasn't changed even as his department increases its response to the border crisis, notes Politico.
One person close to Becerra said the secretary does care about raising the refugee caps, but while "emotionally, he's there ... he's always a pragmatist."
President Joe Biden initially agreed that the refugee limit should remain low, but eventually raised it after blowback from congressional Democrats and immigration advocates.
Meanwhile, Becerra is reportedly frustrated by the White House rush to ease immigration guardrails, with the decision to allow unaccompanied immigrant minors to remain in the United States.
The decision has made the border buildup grow, leaving Becerra, as head of the HHS, to manage the fallout along with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. However, as DHS sets the border policies, HHS ends up dealing with the effects those decisions cause, including leaving the HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement in charge of handling the unaccompanied minors.
The number of children being held at border facilities appears to be dropping, with as few as 600 children a day being kept, down from the 5,500 there at the end of March.
HHS has also added about a dozen emergency shelters and brought in volunteers to staff them while cutting the time it takes to send children to guardians around the United States. White House Domestic Policy chief Susan Rice said in a statement that under Becerra, "HHS has made significant progress in bringing new facilities online and reducing the number of children in [Customs and Border Protection] facilities."
But still, the situation is causing morale problems in the HHS, according to sources, as large numbers of refugees are still coming to the border.
Some are also saying Becerra's slow start came because it was difficult to start off with such a complex situation while still dealing with other responsibilities while learning a new job.
"He was a step behind as he started and had to deal with what was already done," a Becerra ally said, referring to the earlier decision to let unaccompanied children stay in the country. "There’s just a lot on the plate right now."
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