Biden defends policy on migrants as immigration takes center stage at first press conference

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Maureen Groppe, Michael Collins, Courtney Subramanian and Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON – Immigration took center stage at President Joe Biden's first press conference Thursday as reporters pressed him on his administration's plan to address a surge of migrant children seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thousands of migrant children are being held in government facilities near the border, the result of an influx of migrants coming there seeking asylum. The Biden administration has chosen not to expel children and some families citing the dangerous journey back to their home countries. But Republicans and Democrats have been critical of what some call a "crisis" at the border as more and more migrants show up by the day.

Biden defended his immigration policy in response to a question about whether he may be sending a message to migrants that they can cross the border.

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Told about a 9-year-old boy from Honduras whose mother sent him to the United States because she believed Biden would not deport unaccompanied minors, Biden said he would never tell an unaccompanied child that “we’re just gonna let him starve to death and stand on the other side" of the border.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.

“No previous administrations did that either except Trump,” he said, referring to former President Donald Trump. “I'm not going to do it.”

Biden said that is why he has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead White House efforts to stem migration at the border.

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Although the Biden administration is currently accepting unaccompanied migrant children, Biden noted some may be sent back to their home countries.

“The judgment has to be made whether or not,” Biden said of deporting unaccompanied children.

In the case of the 9-year-old Honduran boy, "he has a mom at home. There's an overwhelming reason why he'd be put in a plane and flown back to his mom,” Biden said.

The president said he should be flattered that people think there’s a surge in immigrants coming to the border because “they know Biden is a good guy.”

But that’s not what is happening, he said.

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Instead, Biden said the recent surge is cyclical. There was a similar surge between January and March last year because that’s when it’s safer to travel through the desert heat, he said.

“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not,” Biden said. “It happens every year.”

A reporter told Biden she encountered a pair of siblings who crossed the border on Monday but that U.S. Border Patrol agents still haven't contacted their mother, who lives in the United States.

Biden said his administration is ramping up efforts to more quickly contact the relatives of unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border and move them into "safe, secure beds and facilities."

Asked how he could realistically keep families from coming to the U.S. when conditions in their home countries aren't improving, Biden conceded, "I can't guarantee that."

"I can't guarantee we're going to solve everything," he said. "But I can guarantee you we can make everything better. I can make it better. We can change the lives of so many people."

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Contributing: Rebecca Morin

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden defends White House migrant policy at first press briefing