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Biden administration urges would-be migrants to stay home amid surge of children at the border

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The Biden administration is telling migrants attempting to make the journey to the U.S. that the "border is not open." CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about how the White House is trying to balance easing immigration restrictions with the influx of people coming to the southern border.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: The Biden administration is urging people not to migrate to the Southern US border, as apprehensions there rise and officials struggle to house unaccompanied children.

US Customs and Border Protection says it carried out more than 100,000 apprehensions last month. That was up 28% from January. Border agents also took nearly 10,000 unaccompanied children into custody-- the most since May 2019.

It's posing a challenge for the Biden administration which has been scrambling to meet 72-hour holding deadlines to find bed space for children and teens. Here's President Biden's head of Southern Border Policy for the National Security Council.

ROBERTA JACOBSON: [SPEAKING SPANISH] The border is not open. Neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the US in an irregular fashion. The bord--

ELAINE QUIJANO: CBS News Correspondent Mireya Villarreal has been following this closely. And she joins me now with more from Los Angeles. Hi, there, Mireya. So both Ambassador Jacobson and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledge that the Biden administration is easing President Trump's immigration restrictions. How are they trying to convince people not to make the journey to the US in spite of that?

MIREYA VILLARREAL: I think ease is the key word in the situation here, Elaine. But they're not necessarily doing away with all of the policies that were implemented by the Trump administration. A good example and probably an answer to your question would be Rule 42.

It's also known as the Trump rule that basically says because of the pandemic, we are going to immediately deport everybody that comes in that has come through here illegally and is not necessarily seeking asylum. Or they're going to wait in Mexico for their court dates.

This right now, there is a leniency, right? So there is-- the Trump administration basically said, everybody is going back. Everybody is being deported. What the Biden administration has done is said, we are going to take a step back. We are going to show compassion in the situation. And we're not going to apply this rule to children.

However, again, they didn't completely do away with this. So I think there is still policies in place that they are utilizing from the previous administration. That's one way. I think also they're trying to work very closely with their counterparts in Mexico and also in Latin America to try and explain through education that right now is not the time to come to the US.

They're not saying you will never come. You will never be allowed into the US. What they're saying is take a beat. Let's figure out the situation. And let's figure out how to do it the right way and the safe way.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Mireya, another new immigration change from the Biden administration. They're no longer enforcing the Trump-era public charge green card rule. What is that rule? And what impact will that change have?

MIREYA VILLARREAL: So public charge was actually a rule put in place during the Trump administration that kind of quietly got moved through the system. It was supposed to go into effect in late 2019, but it was met with a lot of resistance and was taken all the way up to the US Supreme Court.

Last year in 2020, it was agreed upon that they would allow this rule to be in place. So public charge basically is kind of this test. It takes a look at a person who is seeking asylum or a green card. And it says, OK, what exactly will this person bring to the US? Will they be dependent on government subsidies? Will they be dependent on government help?

So that could include anything from food stamps to help with rental assistance. And if that person is, could that affect their situation here in the US? Will they be a good candidate to be someone here in the US?

The Biden administration has said, we will not be using the public charge test as of right now. So, again, we are seeing some compassion in these situations. But clearly, we're not seeing a ton of movement when it comes to fixing the problems within the immigration system.

ELAINE QUIJANO: You know, Mireya, we know that immigration policy carries with it some profound human consequences. And you show this in your reporting this week. You spoke to a 15-year-old reunited with her mother in Los Angeles. And she'd spent three weeks in a government facility. What was their experience?

MIREYA VILLARREAL: First, we have to say this is very reminiscent of what we saw back in 2013 and 2014 during the Obama administration. And the reason why it's important to point that out is because President Biden was around during that time and has very intimate knowledge of what this could become-- what it quickly became back in 2014.

There were over 70,000 unaccompanied minors that came through in a one-year period back in that time frame. And I think there is a fear that that could happen again if we don't quickly act if-- and by we, I mean, obviously the administration.

What these children are experiencing is having to cross the border alone in a lot of different places. Whether you're in California or in Texas, it is a dangerous trek and journey. You're talking about these very young children.

This girl in particular, for example, 15 years old, crossing the Rio Grande River by herself in a raft with three other children who are also alone. And the only person on that raft that is not a child is the smuggler that they have paid.

So the journey and the dangerousness and their safety being in jeopardy doesn't end there. Then they get picked up by border patrol. They get put in detention facilities. They get processed. And then they're in a holding pattern within the ORR situation which is Office of Refugee and Resettlement.

Until they can find their parents and ensure that they will be safe with a sponsor or a guardian in the US, they are not going to be released. And to process all of these children quickly, it's just not happening.

The system is overwhelmed and quickly filling up. We are seeing these shelters in Homestead, Florida and in Carrizo Springs, Texas be re-opened, because there is an expectation that this is far from over. And we will see more children sleeping on the floors, being given blankets made of foil. That's exactly what this young girl told us.

And while she felt she was OK, she was obviously with her mom at the time we spoke with her. So, of course, she's not going to give all of the information of what happened to her on her journey right in that moment. So I think we will see a lot more of this happening over the next few months.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Now, Mireya, I know you have traveled extensively along the border-- across the border to bring us these stories. It really does paint a different picture when you see things at that kind of micro level, as we talk about this broader immigration policy. Mireya Villarreal for us. Mireya, thank you so much.

MIREYA VILLARREAL: Thank you so much, Elaine. I appreciate it.