The White House is bracing for a worsening situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as President Biden faces criticism from both political parties over the influx of migrant children.
Biden’s No. 1 priority remains the coronavirus pandemic. But the flow of asylum-seekers threatens to overwhelm the country’s immigration system after it was overhauled by former President Donald Trump in ways that irritated Democrats.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was dispatched this week to brief reporters at the White House, repeatedly blaming Trump’s administration for the country’s immigration predicament and warning it would “take time” to undo its “cruelty.”
The White House also picked first lady Jill Biden to be the public face of its family reunification task force. Using the first lady allows the White House to provide political cover to other officials who likely have future political aspirations that could be harmed by delving into such a tricky issue as immigration, chiefly Vice President Kamala Harris. She could well be the Democratic Party’s 2024 presidential nominee, should Biden opt against another run.
Using Jill Biden also allows the administration to use her national popularity — 57% of those polled last month by Gallup had a favorable opinion of her versus 22% with a negative view — to tackle a hot-button issue.
The White House’s maneuvers coincidewith a jump in the number of child migrants referred to the Health and Human Services Department for long-term care: 321 by the end of February up from a daily average of 47 during the first week of January. And it’s forced Biden’s team to reopen Trump-era facilities to house them.
As part of Mayorkas’s attempt to lower public expectations, the secretary refused to describe the issue as “a crisis.”Cesar Conda, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s chief of staff during Congress’s last immigration reform push in 2013, didn’t hesitate to use the word, evidence of tensions between Democrats and Republicans over the narrative.
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