What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Biden administration scrambles to respond to surge of migrant children at the U.S. border

The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is increasingly challenging the Biden administration, with the number of detained migrant children tripling in recent weeks, according to the New York Times. Almost half are being held longer than permitted by law. Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, joins Yamiche Alcindor to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Biden administration is struggling to respond to a new surge of migrant children at the country's southern border.

    Our Yamiche Alcindor takes a deeper look at the recent increase and how facilities to hold these children are becoming overwhelmed.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Judy, the situation at the border is increasingly challenging.

    According to The New York Times, the number of detained migrant children has tripled in the past two weeks. Almost half are being held longer than permitted by law. And in January, the number of unaccompanied children found at the border was 1,000 more than in October 2020.

    To help break all this down, I'm joined by Theresa Cardinal Brown. She is the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

    Teresa, thanks so much for being here.

    What is different and most concerning about what is happening right now at the border? And how concerned are you about the trauma that unaccompanied minors and immigrants are facing at the border right now?

  • Theresa Cardinal Brown:

    Well, I think the major difference is that the Biden administration is trying to figure out how it can humanely treat and process the migrants who are coming to the border.

    The Trump administration's response to unaccompanied children and migrants arriving at the border was to send everyone back home without any sort of process. And the Biden administration wants to do it differently. The challenge it has is that it didn't inherit an infrastructure that would enable it to process the numbers of arrivals in the way it wants to.

    And so it is scrambling right now, I think, to find places and that it can create new shelter environments that can treat the children well. The law has the process set out for what should happen to unaccompanied children.

    They first encounter a Border Patrol agent at the border. The Border Patrol agent would take them back to a Border Patrol station, which is like a police precinct. It's a jail. It's not a place for families and kids. And they're not supposed to be there for more than three days, because the next place they should go is to a Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter.

    Those shelters are operated by licensed caregivers who are trained to deal with migrant children. They are around the country. But, right now, the network is below its capacity because of COVID restrictions. And even if it were to change those COVID restrictions, it has — whether or not that shelter capacity is sufficient depends on how many children are arriving.

    So, when any part of the system essentially gets backlogged, the children remain in the Border Patrol station. So, that's what has to change. The Biden administration has to quickly figure out how quickly it can safely expand that shelter facility and get those kids away from the Border Patrol stations as soon as possible.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And the Biden administration has said over and over again this isn't the time to come. That message obviously is not reaching a lot of migrants. What do you make of that?

  • Theresa Cardinal Brown:

    I will be honest. I think government messages about coming or not coming have never been successful, no matter which administration has tried it.

    I think migrants, they decide to leave based on the situation they're leaving, that it's just become untenable where they are. And they're more likely to listen to the — what they have heard from their networks, their social networks, their family networks, their fellow community members who have already come to the border. What's it like? What's it like?

    Those decisions tell them when it's time to come to the border, more so than any government messaging. And, right now, their colleagues are coming in, and they're hopeful. I think you can't underestimate the factor that migrants have of just the idea of hope, that coming to the United States is hope for them.

    And they will take any measure they need to, to try to capture that hope.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And President Biden has been talking about passing an immigration bill.

    I wonder what you make of whether or not there will be an impact on — with an immigration bill or whether or not this is really a people problem, a logistics problem, a child problem.

  • Theresa Cardinal Brown:

    This problem is a logistics problem.

    It — the law is clear what should happen to children. What the Trump administration did was supersede the immigration law with its Title 42 COVID order to send people back, to send the children back places — to the places they were fleeing.

    Biden is trying to abide by the immigration order, but it's a capacity problem. His attempted immigration reform wouldn't necessarily address this particular problem, other than that it would or might create new legal pathways for people to come, so they wouldn't be arriving illegally at the border.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    What do you make of the Republican Party and how they have been talking about immigration? They have been saying that President Biden is not handling the situation, that it's untenable, they say.

    They also say that there are immigrants being allowed in this country who might spread COVID-19. What do you make of that?

  • Theresa Cardinal Brown:

    Right now, there doesn't seem to be any indication that the migrants are bringing COVID at any greater rates than is already happening in the United States. But that's part of the logistics problem he has to work out.

    I think Republicans are just going to be critical because that's what they do. And Democrats were critical of Trump. But I think, really, the focus has to be on how to best manage this issue at the border for the safety of the children.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A tough situation. Thank you so much for joining us to talk about it.

    Theresa Cardinal Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

  • Theresa Cardinal Brown:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment