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By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas led a visit by Biden administration officials to the U.S. border with Mexico on Saturday amid a growing number of border crossings and criticism by Republicans that an immigration crisis is brewing.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has sought to reverse rigid immigration polices set up by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, whose 2016 election and four-year presidency were dominated in part by his efforts to build a border wall and reduce the number of legal and illegal migrants coming into the United States.
Biden has faced criticism from immigration activists, too, who say unaccompanied migrant children and families are being held too long in detention centers instead of being released while their asylum applications are considered.
The White House said last week Biden had asked senior members of his staff to travel to the border to report back about the influx of unaccompanied minors making crossings. It declined at the time to release details about the timing of the trip, citing security and privacy concerns.
Mayorkas and other officials, including Biden's domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, visited a border patrol facility and a refugee resettlement facility during their Saturday trip, the White House said in a statement on Sunday.
"They discussed capacity needs given the number of unaccompanied children and families arriving at our border, the complex challenges with rebuilding our gutted border infrastructure and immigration system, as well as improvements that must be made in order to restore safe and efficient procedures to process, shelter, and place unaccompanied children with family or sponsors," the White House said.
"Officials also discussed ways to ensure the fair and humane treatment of immigrants, the safety of the workforce, and the wellbeing of communities nearby in the face of a global pandemic."
An influx of people seeking to cross the U.S. border is likely to be a big issue in the 2022 midterm elections; Trump may use it to rally his base against Biden and lay the groundwork for a potential return as a presidential candidate in 2024 or as a way to boost another Republican successor.
"The border is breaking down as I speak. Immigration in 2022 will be a bigger issue than it was in 2016," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo" program. Graham is a close ally of Trump.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)