White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday clarified that Vice President Kamala Harris isn’t in charge of handling the migrant surge at the US-Mexico border and that her role only pertains to the “root causes” of the crisis.
Psaki made the clarification during her daily press briefing after she was asked about an internal Biden administration report projecting record numbers of unaccompanied minors for another six months.
“The vice president of the United States will be helping lead that effort, specifically the root causes — not the border, there’s some confusion over that,” Psaki said.
President Biden last week tapped Harris to lead diplomatic efforts to stem the flow of migrants from Central America.
Psaki dodged a question on the document reported on by Axios projecting that the number of minors could soar to 26,000 for the month of September, up from about 16,000 this month and an estimated 22,000 to 25,000 in May.
“What we’re working to do is put in place steps and actions to help address the situation at the border, including, of course, expediting processing and opening up additional shelters, but also reinstituting policies like the Central American minors program to encourage young people to apply in their country and not make that treacherous journey,” Psaki said.
“We were also in a circumstance where we are digging out of a broken system over the past four years — not just the inhumane policies, but the fact that there were never efforts put in place to look for us and seek shelters where these children could be safely and humanely housed.”
Psaki declined to confirm the accuracy of the projections.
“I don’t have any predictions, those would certainly come from CBP or the Department of Homeland Security, but our focus now is on ensuring that we have enough shelters facilities to house unaccompanied children. We just opened three last week, that would allow for almost 7,000 additional beds. So that’s what our focus is in at this point in time, we’ll leave the projections to other agencies,” she said.
As of Wednesday, there were 16,500 unaccompanied minors in federal custody, of whom about 11,500 were housed by the Department of Health and Human Services and another 5,000 were in cramped Border Patrol facilities, CBS News reported.
The Biden administration has allowed all unaccompanied children who illegally cross the US-Mexico border to stay at least temporarily in the country, but says it expels all single adults and some families under a Trump-era COVID-19 policy.
An average of just 13 percent of nearly 13,000 members of families who tried to cross the border illegally were turned back to Mexico earlier this month, according to a report — undermining the chorus from the Biden administration that most people crossing unlawfully are sent back.
Republicans accuse Biden of triggering the migrant surge by relaxing former President Donald Trump’s border policies and by proposing legislation to legalize most of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the US. But Biden said last week at his first White House press conference that he believes the increase is seasonal.
Last month, Biden terminated Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims.
Shortly after taking office, Biden halted construction of his predecessor’s Mexico border wall and issued an order affirming the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives work permits and protection from deportation to people brought illegally to the US as minors.
The House of Representatives this month passed Biden-backed bills that would create a path to citizenship for up to half of the estimated illegal immigrants in the US, including farmworkers and children who arrived as minors.