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A 'crisis' for Biden at the border: a look at the numbers

FILE - This March 2, 2019 photo shows a Customs and Border Control agent patrols on the US side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel,File)
FILE - This March 2, 2019 photo shows a Customs and Border Control agent patrols on the US side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel,File)
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Rival groups of U.S. lawmakers descended on the country's southwestern border with Mexico on Friday, each deploring conditions there as a "crisis," but for different reasons.

Republicans charged that President Joe Biden has effectively advertised an "open borders" policy that has encouraged the latest "surge" of migrants to seek entrance into the country illegally; Democrats cite the often inadequate housing and medical treatment available to those arriving here, including rising numbers of unaccompanied minors.

"Even these facilities, that have better conditions than the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] processing centers, are not the places for kids," Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, told reporters in an afternoon news conference in Carrizo Springs in his home state.

"We can hear the voices of cartel members yelling at us from across the river," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said at a separate news conference, conducted at night amid the tall brush of Mission, TX.

Many mainstream news media outlets, including CNN and the New York Times, have described the current state of illegal immigration along the border as a "crisis," with the latter organization reporting last week on the "surge" of migrants arriving there. Concerned that such talk portrays him as being at the mercy of events, unable to press his reforms to Trump-era immigration policies, President Biden has sought to tamp it down.

"Truth of the matter is, nothing has changed," Mr. Biden said at his first full-scale presidential news conference held under COVID-era social distancing and mask mandates at the White House on Thursday. "There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March.... It happens every single solitary year."

Supporters of the president agreed. Allen Orr, a veteran immigration attorney recently named president-elect of the American Immigrations Lawyers' Association, disputed widespread news media coverage of a "surge" or "crisis" at the border. "The need and the desire for people to migrate to the country at that border is not any different than it has been. There's seasonal kicks," he said, "where people saw that the influx is higher or less."

An affiliated group, the American Immigration Council, released a study this week, citing federal data, showing that spikes in arrivals at the border have occurred in five of the last seven years, across three presidencies, including the current one: 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, and now in 2021.

Orr rejected Republican claims that the new president has telegraphed a new laxity at the border distinct from the policies of his predecessor. "This is somewhat of a fiction, that we believe the American president is dictating people's desire to come to our ports of entry....We keep looking for a president to do something that Congress needs to do." Indeed, more than two decades have passed since Congress last enacted major reforms to the immigration statutes that were signed into law by an American president: George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990.

Chad Wolf, who served as acting secretary of homeland security for the final fourteen months of the Trump administration, maintained that there is a distinct difference between the two administrations, and that that difference has effectively created the current conditions at the border.

"In February alone, CBP saw over 100,000 illegal apprehensions," Wolf told the Sinclair program "The National Desk." "That's the highest February in almost twenty years...It has to do directly with both the messaging and the policies of the Biden administration."

As a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, Mr. Biden did make clear that he would not seek to deport undocumented migrants who had no criminal records.

In a candidates' debate in Miami in June 2019, sponsored by NBC News, Noticias Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart asked the former vice president: "Should someone who is here without documents -- and that is his only offense -- should that person be deported?" "That person should not be the focus of deportation," Mr. Biden answered.

The study by the American Immigration Council, however, showed that the number of "encounters" at the southwest border -- incidents when law enforcement officers have determined someone to be crossing the border illegally -- actually began a steep climb under the Trump administration. In April 2020, the study said, federal authorities logged 14, 754 encounters; by December, that figure had risen to 62, 041, an increase of more than 300%.

The study also found that more than 70% of those encountered at the border last month were sent back to Mexico or expelled to their home countries.

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