The official said the number of youths detained after attempting to cross the border had soared to 14,000 during a Thursday press briefing, noting that they are divided between facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Border Patrol.
While the official argued that “Children presenting themselves at the border is not a national crisis,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to contradict that statement during a presser earlier on Thursday, referring to a “crisis on the border.” Pressed by reporters, she amended the phrase to “challenges on the border.”
Psaki’s self-correction is in line with the administration’s public stance on the situation at the southern border. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired on Tuesday night, Biden sought to downplay the current surge of migration, though reluctantly agreed that it “could be” larger than other spikes seen in recent years. While telling asylum-seekers “don’t come over,” the president also insisted federal agencies are working as fast as possible to transfer young migrants from border police facilities to “safe” HHS-run holding areas.
However, though Axios reported in late February that some 700 underage migrants were being detained by the Border Patrol, that figure has since soared to around 4,500, the official said. The majority of them, nearly 3,000, have been held beyond the three-day limit set out under federal guidelines, according to CBS News. Another 9,500 are now in HHS custody.
The updated figure comes amid reports that the Biden administration handed down an informal “gag order” for Border Patrol agents, barring them from speaking publicly about the ongoing immigration surge or taking reporters on ‘ride-alongs’ to witness it for themselves.
Biden also told ABC that adult migrants have not been allowed to enter the country, but the senior official said on Thursday that there are “certain limits” on Mexico’s ability to absorb families that are turned away. In some cases, they are accepted into the US so their asylum requests can be heard by a judge, added the official.
Despite the repeated denials of any border crisis, Biden’s Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged this week that the US is currently “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” adding that the conditions there continue to deteriorate. While the president recently said he has no plans to visit the border anytime soon, Mayorkas is expected to make a stop there on Friday, according to ABC News.
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