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Biden administration faces challenges at U.S.-Mexico border

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As the number of migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border increases, the Biden administration must find ways to safely house them amid the coronavirus pandemic. Washington Post immigration reporter Nick Miroff joined CBSN to discuss the situation.

Video Transcript

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: A rise in the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border is forcing the Biden administration to find new ways to house them. Officials are opening up a new temporary tent facility in Eagle Pass, located in the Del Rio sector in southwest Texas. It's just the latest of a number of facilities the US has opened recently, as Homeland Security officials deal with the influx of Central American minors and families crossing the border.

For more on this, let's bring in "Washington Post" reporter who covers immigration, Nick Miroff. Nick, Thanks for joining us. So during President Biden's campaign, he denounced former President Trump's treatment of migrant children. But now he's opening up more facilities to cope with the growing number of minors in government custody. Explain to us the similarities or perhaps the differences between what the Trump administration did and what the Biden administration is attempting to do.

NICK MIROFF: Sure. Well, many of your viewers remember those unforgettable images of children in chain-link enclosures that were denounced as cages during the peak of President Trump's zero tolerance crackdown in 2018. The Biden administration has really been emphasizing that these facilities it's opening have nothing to do with that type of place. They are run by Health and Human Services. And the government really, with these children in its custody, is under the obligation to identify an eligible sponsor, in some cases a parent or family member, for these kids, and then to make sure that that person is eligible to take custody of the child. And that requires a lengthy vetting process.

During that time, the government can't simply release children to any adult who wants them. And so this kind of shelter facility is the best worst option, so to speak.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So the goal of the Biden administration-- the stated goal has been to reverse some of these more controversial policies that the previous administration put in place. But the current president is getting a lot of criticism that he hasn't actually done enough, that he's still failing at the border. I kind of want to get your take on the criticism.

I mean, it occurs to me that the administration has not been there for very long. The transition period was unconventional, if you want to be nice, or pretty much nonexistent. And we're not talking about a factory where you just turn it off and on. I would imagine that some of these policies-- it's not as easy as just kind of ripping up the document or canceling the policy. We're talking about human beings here. What's your take or assessment on how the Biden administration is doing thus far?

NICK MIROFF: Well, the Biden administration is really trying to walk a delicate balancing act. The president on the campaign trail really promised that he would reverse and undo a lot of his predecessor's policies, which were almost entirely aimed at deterring unauthorized border crossings. And so Biden immediately has fulfilled a lot of those promises while leaving in place one deterrent tool, which is this Title 42 emergency health order, allowing border agents to send most migrants immediately back to Mexico. And by leaving that in place, he has been criticized by some of the immigrant advocates and other members of the Democratic base that supported him.

But he's in very much a difficult spot because to the extent that his administration has taken down some of these policies, it is seeing an immediate response in terms of more pressure on the border, particularly from these underage minors. And so the path forward is very difficult. And it's unclear what measures, if any, the administration can take to sort of stop these trends.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: So yesterday, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas spoke at a press briefing about the issues at the border. I want to play a bit of what he had to say.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Entire systems are not rebuilt in a day or in a few weeks. To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation's immigration system in its entirety. When I started 27 days ago, I learned that we did not have the facilities available or equipped to administer the humanitarian laws that our Congress passed years ago. We did not have the personnel, policies, procedures, or training to administer those laws.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: So the former president has also spoken out, claiming that President Biden has failed at maintaining what he says-- former President Trump says are his successes at the border. That was a theme of his speech at CPAC over the weekend.

What I find remarkable, Nick, is that during-- President Trump has always been able to sort of paint this picture of his presidency, his administration, his personality as being everything that it's actually not. And I say that because if you take a look at the, for example, deportations under President Obama-- in the first three years that President Obama was in office, he deported something like 1.1 million people.

And we all remember that he was called by many people deporter in chief. For the same period under the Trump administration, President Trump only deported about 800,000 people. I'm not talking about the merits of deportation or not. I'm just suggesting that when President Trump points at his administration as somehow a success on immigration and Biden's policies only a month in are failures, I don't think that that paints an accurate picture. So help me understand that.

NICK MIROFF: Sure. We saw that again Sunday in his CPAC speech, when he said that Biden was causing the worst border crisis in history. When, in 2019, under President Trump, we saw a record influx of families and children. Many of your viewers will remember.

And so with Mayorkas coming to the podium yesterday at the White House, I think what we saw is the Biden administration attempting to really hit back at some of those charges and to pin the blame for the current challenge at the borders, what the administration is calling it, to pin their blame on Trump's policies, essentially to say that he left the ruins of an immigration system that Biden's team is now in the position of having to rebuild it and do so in a way that's consistent with their values and humanitarian values.

And that's going to be a challenge. And it's going to take some time. So really asking for patience, I think, from some of its Democratic supporters in doing so.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: I think one of the other things that the president is probably including when he calls himself a success is lowering the number of legal immigrants because success for him was an overall goal of limiting immigration, whether it was people crossing the border who were undocumented or people coming here legally. And of course, the pandemic added to that--

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Unless you were from Norway.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: --in terms of depressing the numbers. Unless you're-- correct, Vlad. Thank you very much.

Let me ask you this. Monday, President Biden spoke virtually with Mexico's president Obrador. What are the issues that the two leaders discussed? What can we expect when thinking about the future of US-Mexico relations with this new administration?

NICK MIROFF: Sure. Well, you'll remember that under President Trump, the US really leaned on Lopez Obrador to help with border enforcement, really under direct threat from President Trump to punish the Mexican economy with tariffs. I think Biden has come in wanting to chart a different course.

And so the two leaders discussed yesterday cooperation on migration issues. But really, the types of goals that they identified are long-term solutions aimed at creating jobs in Central America and southern Mexico that would reduce pressures on the border. We did not hear any immediate short-term ideas or proposals discussed. And so whether or not Mexico can help Biden address the current challenge that the administration is facing is less clear.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: All right, Nick Miroff, thank you so much.

NICK MIROFF: Thank you.