Border Crisis Growing Because Biden is Losing Messaging Battle With Migrants, Democrats Say

As the Biden administration continues to avoid calling the situation at the border a crisis, Democrats have begun to acknowledge the depth of the problem, and reckon with the losing messaging battle the White House is waging among Central Americans eager to come to the United States.

Texas Representative Henry Cuellar, who represents a border district and has not been shy about criticizing the Biden administration on immigration, told Newsweek the story of his visit to the Carrizo Springs facility in Texas on Friday, where young migrant teens are being held.

Speaking to 20 young men, he asked them how many had heard messaging from the administration that now is not the time to make the trek to the U.S. and none raised their hands. Then Cuellar asked how many were told by their family or friends that that now is the time to safely come across the border, and all but one agreed, raising their hands. They were less open about contact with coyotes who bring migrants and share disinformation about U.S. immigration policy, but some acknowledged they were approached by these outside groups to bring them to the country.

Asked then if the Biden administration was losing the messaging battle to personal networks and groups trying to make a financial gain on migrants, Cuellar wholeheartedly agreed.

"Oh yes, there's no ifs, no buts," Cuellar said. "If they think they're winning, they're badly mistaken."

Representative Vicente Gonzalez, who also represents a Texas border district told Newsweek the general impression in Central America is that Donald Trump "is hateful and Biden is more compassionate, which is obviously very true," but said the administration's interest in sharing a more humane message has contributed to the current crisis.

"Any kind of message that if you get here will get processed and released is a bad message, as much as it breaks my heart," Gonzalez said.

In a new statement Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said "the situation at the southwest border is difficult" and the agency is working around the clock to manage it. Mayorkas, along with Roberta Jacobson, the White House coordinator for the southern border, have shared the messaging at briefings the Texas Democrats criticized, that migrants shouldn't come now, but should come later on once the infrastructure for legal applications for asylum are erected in Central America.

"'Don't come now, come later.' Please, come on. That's funny," Gonzalez said. "People at the border laugh at those kind of comments, it's not realistic."

The situation at the border worsened over the weekend, with CBS News reporting that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) was keeping 4,200 unaccompanied children in short-term holding facilities, with almost 3,000 in custody longer than the legally allowable 72 hours. The number of children in border patrol custody on Sunday represented a 31 percent increase from last week, when the agency was holding more than 3,200 kids.

On Saturday, DHS announced that over the next 90 days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help process the high levels of unaccompanied minors.

The worsening situation led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deem it a "humanitarian crisis" and the result of Trump's immigration policies on Sunday.

But there is evidence that Mexico, a common Trump target, but also a necessary partner in stemming the flow of migrants to the United States, believes Biden's policies are at least partly to blame for the current situation.

"They see him as the migrant president, and so many feel they're going to reach the United States," Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on March 1 after a virtual meeting with Biden.

Cuellar, who has spoken to Mexican officials recently, said they've become worried about the growing influx of migrants. "Mexicans are saying 'Your problem is becoming our problem,'" he said.

But not all Democrats agree with the assessments of the two Texas congressmen who have taken a harder line on Biden's immigration policies.

Trump sowed the seeds of the crisis by slowing down asylum claims to a trickle and forcing people to wait just to have a day in court, said Representative Joaquin Castro. "Now that you have a president following the law again people want to get their day in court," he said. "It's not a surprise they would present themselves at the border."

New York Representative Ritchie Torres said that border crises in recent history have been cyclical, with Obama dealing with a surge of migrant children during his second term, and Trump contending with one in 2019.

"It's more of a cyclical event than a consequence of Biden policy," he said, before turning to Trump. "My second thought is cruelty is easy, it's easy and cruel to close borders. It's much harder to be more humane and compassionately absorb migrants coming into the United States."

But Democrats who don't blame Biden for the influx of migrants do believe there are forces within the administration who are actively working to make a temporary bad situation look much worse in the media.

"There are strong forces within ICE and CBP that are trying to undermine the Biden administration because ideologically they agree with Donald Trump," a Democratic member of Congress told Newsweek, citing leaks to the media from within the agencies and resistance to Biden immigration policies. Leadership within these departments has to stop these people from undermining administration efforts, the source said, because "I expect those border patrol folks to continue to send out photos and videos to stoke the flames and get people more pissed off."

Asked for specifics on what the White House could have done better to avoid the current surge and manage the situation at the border, Gonzalez declined to go further in his criticism but said he will eventually change his mind if the situation doesn't improve in the coming months.

"We're less than 90 days in, it's too early to place blame," he added. "You talk to me in another three months, if this is still going on, I'm going to be hammering people," he said with a laugh.

Henry cuellar
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaks to members of the media June 27, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The House has passed a Senate version of a $4.5 billion bill on combating the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Alex Wong/Getty Images