Biden describes border surge as a ‘crisis’ as he defends refugee moves

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Adam Shaw
·3 min read
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President Biden on Saturday described the situation at the border as a "crisis" for the first time, as he defended his administration’s walkback on refugee policy a day earlier.

"We’re going to increase the number [of refugees]," he told reporters. "The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number."

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Biden’s administration has until now refused to call the dramatic spike in migrant numbers, which saw 172,000 migrant encounters in March alone, a "crisis." Instead, it has referred to it as a "challenge" and blamed it on the Trump administration’s dismantling of asylum paths.

"The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock seven days a week to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border -- that we manage the challenge, as acute as the challenge is," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last month.

But critics have pointed to the record numbers of migrants, overwhelmed facilities, and shocking images coming from the border, and blamed the crisis on Biden’s liberal immigration policies for encouraging migrants to make the journey north.

Biden found himself in hot water with members of his own party on Friday, when he signed an emergency presidential determination to keep the number of refugees for Fiscal Year 2021 capped at 15,000 while changing the regional allocation of who is brought in. It is the same level set by the Trump administration.

Biden had said in February that he would increase the cap to 125,000 for FY 2022 which begins in October. He also said he would work with Congress to make a "down payment" on that number. In the meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed to Congress lifting the cap to 62,000 for this fiscal year.

Immigration activists and left-wing Democrats were furious at the move. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, calling it "completely and utterly unacceptable."

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"This Biden Administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. "These refugees can wait years for their chance and go through extensive vetting. Thirty-five thousand are ready. Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it ain’t so, President Joe."

Hours later, the White House changed course, blaming "confusion" on behalf of the media, while promising to raise the number of refugees by the middle of next month.

"Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, a reference to the border surge, of which the ORR -- part of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a key agency in dealing with the flow.

Psaki then said that with the reforms to the refugee admissions in place, a new updated cap will be announced before the middle of May.

"While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that," she said. "With that done, we expect the President to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15."

However, there is still no sign of the surge facing the administration, and which affects ORR, slowing any time soon. There are currently more than 19,000 unaccompanied children in HHS care as of Friday.

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But left-wing Democrats who criticized the initial move welcomed the u-turn.

"This is a testament to the power that people’s movements, community advocates, & progressive coalitions have built," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "Thankful for that and the Biden admin’s decision to respond to organizers today. Now let’s get these families to their new homes here in the United States."