Senator Lindsey Graham has called on Joe Biden to “apologise” to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents dealing with the surge of unaccompanied migrant children being allowed into the US at the southern border, which has overwhelmed housing and processing facilities.
CBP agents told Mr Graham — one of 19 GOP senators to visit the border in Texas this weekend — that they had warned the new administration that allowing unaccompanied children into the country would flood the system, the South Carolina Republican said.
“They were told this. They did this anyway,” Mr Graham said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. “He needs to apologize, President Biden, to the Border Patrol agents and their families for putting them through this.”
The new administration has adopted a policy of taking in every unaccompanied minor who arrives at the border as they seek asylum. The Trump administration had been sending such children back to Mexico.
Under federal law, if agents allow children into the US, they are only supposed to remain in CBP custody for 72 hours before being handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs of a network of facilities.
But that network has already been stretched thin as scores of minors from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere continue flocking to the border. Thousands of children have been in CBP custody well beyond the legal limit for the last several weeks, causing overcrowding and putting people at risk of catching Covid.
“These facilities are being overrun. Ten per cent of these kids are Covid-positive,” Mr Graham said.
That number is perhaps a slight exaggeration; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reported that roughly 6 per cent of migrants at the border have been testing positive for Covid.
Still, Mr Graham said, the conditions are abysmal.
“You’ve got a facility designed for 80 kids with about a thousand in it, so that’s pretty bad,” he said.
The Biden administration is continuing to hammer the message that the US border is closed to families and adult individuals trying to enter the country via Mexico, even as the government takes in the surge of unaccompanied children and families arriving at patrol stations.
“The border remains closed. It is not open. We are turning away the majority of adults, but what we are really talking about here is children, and how we are handling that in the safest and most humane capacity,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in an earlier segment on Fox News Sunday.
But Ms Psaki’s statement — which toes the line the administration has cast on immigration amid the surge in migrants — does not square with the reality of how most families and all unaccompanied children are being processed.
Last Thursday, 86 per cent of the families Customs and Border Patrol encountered were allowed into the US for processing, several news outlets reported.
Some Mexican states are refusing to house families with children younger than 7 years old, forcing US agents to process and release people while they await an adjudication on whether they’ll be deported or granted asylum.
Mr Biden admitted at his press conference last week that there is “no easy answer” to the current influx in immigration at the southern border other than trying to provide the resources to house vulnerable groups seeking asylum in a safe way.
While Republicans have railed against Mr Biden for tacitly inviting people to send their children on a perilous journey to the US border, the administration has countered that families have been making difficult decisions like that for years.
And, the president’s aides have argued, bringing the unaccompanied children into the US is much more “humane” than making them stay in Mexico or go back to their homes in Central America.
Neither Mr Biden nor Ms Psaki has provided a timeline for when the media will be allowed to report on conditions at border facilities housing migrant children and families as they await processing.
When Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace accused Ms Psaki of being less transparent at the border than the previous administration, the Biden spokeswoman responded: “We are committed to allowing cameras into Border Patrol facilities.”