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Lena I. Jackson
Lena I. Jackson
The White House is moving today to limit the humanitarian — and political — damage from the migrant challenge. President Joe Biden has put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the effort to stem immigration from Central America, and released new images from holding facilities in an effort towards transparency. Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage, with Amna Nawaz reporting from the border.
The Biden White House is moving tonight to get the migrant challenge in hand before the humanitarian and political damage gets out of hand.
To that end, the vice president is taking charge of the effort.
White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.
Today, an intensified focus on the Southern border. At the White House, President Biden addressed the growing challenges there, as the rising numbers of migrants turned up the political pressure to act.
Pres. Joe Biden:
This new surge we're dealing with now started with the last administration, but it's our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to — and to stop what's happening.
He also announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will now be leading the administration's efforts to deal with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on immigration. It's a new role Harris embraced.
Vice Pres. Kamala Harris:
While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also, because we can chew gum and walk at the same time, must address the root causes.
Officials from the vice president's office say she will focus on two main issues, stemming the flow of irregular migrants to the U.S. and establishing partnerships with the Central American nations they are fleeing.
But the role is a hard one with complex issues dating back decades, and it's one Mr. Biden tried to tackle when he was vice president. In the meantime, the president and vice president also met with the secretaries of health and human services and homeland security.
And President Biden dispatched a delegation of White House officials and member of Congress to inspect a refugee resettlement facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
We are taking a very comprehensive approach, opening up new beds, providing space for children.
The visit marked the first time the Biden administration allowed media access to a border site, but this was one run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which readies such places for kids.
The main problems have been at overcrowded facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Just yesterday, footage released by Customs and Border Protection officials showed migrate children eating and sleeping in a crowded Texas detention center.
Sources told the "NewsHour" that, as of Tuesday, there were about 4,800 children at CBP facilities. That includes some 1,600 kids who had been held for more than the legally allowed 72 hours ago.
Meanwhile, Republicans stepped up the pressure. Senator Lindsey Graham said it's clear that migrants believe President Biden is making it easier to enter the U.S. He accused the White House and Democrats of trying to unfairly shift blame on to former President Trump.
Sen. Lindsey Graham:
It's time to regain control, and you have to deal with the dynamic that led to the border being overrun. This is not a seasonal event. Trump's got nothing to do with this.
Graham proposed his own legislation to tackle the situation at the border. Some of the provisions include immediately sending back migrants to their home countries and then having them fill out asylum applications in Northern Triangle nations, rather than the United States, allowing authorities to hold families together longer than the current standard of 20 days, and appointing 500 new immigration judges.
On the Senate floor, Democrats blocked Republican measures targeting President Biden's reversal of Trump era border policies. The growing debate made clear that immigration is shaping up to be a central challenge to the Biden White House and a driving force in the 2022 midterm elections.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Our senior national correspondent, Amna Nawaz, is on the border in El Paso, Texas. And she joins me now.
We know very well one of the specific challenges facing the Biden administration is this influx of unaccompanied minors. And in an effort to be more transparent, they decided today to release images of one of the Health and Human Services Department-run shelters for children. Tell us how that is being received.
Well, I think it's clear, obviously, the efforts made by the Biden administration are very much welcome, certainly for us as journalists. We have been among the many journalists at the "NewsHour" asking for access, not just to those shelters run by HHS you mentioned where unaccompanied minors are held, but also to the Border Patrol facilities that are run by Homeland Security.
And that is where we know the backup of unaccompanied minors coming across in larger numbers, now we know that's where the backup is.
But when you look at the families, when you talk to the families on the ground on both sides of the border, what we're seeing is that we shouldn't expect those numbers of unaccompanied children to decrease anytime soon. And here's why.
There's that rule we keep hearing about, Title 42, which is related to the pandemic, basically put into place by the previous administration, so that officials can immediately expel people. Everyone is denied entry, the vast majority of people crossing the Southern border.
The Biden administration has kept that in place. And that means that the backup on the other side of the border continues to grow. People are being expelled time and time again. We're hearing from local officials about very high rates of recidivism.
Parents on the other side increasingly telling us they're so desperate and frustrated they are considering sending their children alone. And it's not just the parents. It's the kids themselves sometimes. We actually met a mother from Guatemala today who was here in a shelter on the El Paso side. She just made her way across today.
But her teenage son and she had been stuck in Mexico for over a year before one day he decided it was too much. Without telling her, he decided to cross alone. And he made his way into the United States, was held in the shelter system for about 22 days, and eventually reunited with family.
But we are increasingly hearing stories like this — Judy.
And, Amna, the rule 42 that you that you mentioned that denies entry to most people who try to come across, is there a discussion inside the Biden administration about undoing that, rolling it back?
Judy, I don't think any indication from the administration has come yet they're planning to make any changes to Title 42.
We know, of course, Ambassador Roberta Jackson (sic) and a senior director for the National Security Council, Juan Gonzalez, are in Guatemala and Mexico. That could be up for discussion, but certainly not while the pandemic is very much with us.
I will say one of the things we talked about today with a man named Ruben Garcia, who is sort of a longstanding institution in terms of migrants services here in the El Paso area, was about Title 42, whether or not he expects changes anytime soon.
When I asked him about what the future of that rule could be, here's what he had to say.
I'm very concerned about what is going to happen when Title 42 gets impacted. That's what's keeping me up at night.
Why are you concerned?
Because the minute you begin to tamper with Title 42 you're going to have a surge. You're going — we're not going to be talking about hundreds. We're going to be — and not even thousands. We're going to be talking about tens of thousands of refugees that are going to cross into the U.S.
And, Amna, with the announcement today about Vice President Harris, what is it believed she's going to be able to do with regard to this complicated set of issues around immigration, as she takes over this portfolio?
Well, Judy, there's a lot of work to be done.
We have seen with the previous administration they did try to strike some unilateral deals with some of these countries of origin to try to prevent people from leaving in the first place. But we all know, until those root causes are addressed on the ground, those flows will likely not slow down.
Now, we know the Biden administration has $4 billion earmarked to try to go exactly towards that effort. They want to change asylum rules to make it easier for people to access U.S. asylum or asylum in other countries in their countries of origin. But none of those plans are quick fixes.
We're not talking about something changing this week or this month, probably not even this year. It's also important to remember the numbers we're seeing now are because of a backup over the last year. As this backup continues to grow, experts say we're likely to see the numbers grow even in the weeks and months ahead — Judy.
Such a complex set of issues around this.
Amna Nawaz reporting from the border in Texas.
Thank you, Amna.
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Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
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