Joe Biden Faces Increasing Pressure As Republicans Round on Border 'Crisis'

The border with Mexico, long a potent symbol of America's partisan divide, is becoming a major problem for President Joe Biden, distracting from his administration's efforts to ease the coronavirus crisis and hampering his ability to find common ground with the Republican Party.

There has been a dramatic surge in the number of migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, crossing the southern border into the U.S. in recent weeks. Border facilities are being overwhelmed and officials are struggling to accommodate them.

Biden aides, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have been traveling to the border to observe the situation, presenting their troubling findings to the president on Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday the team "spent the majority of their time discussing what steps can be taken to expedite processes to move more quickly—to move the process more quickly to meet the administration's goal of getting these children placed with vetted and confirmed families."

Biden now faces the challenge of juggling his vow to reverse the controversial anti-immigrant policies of his predecessor with deterring people who are considering traveling north in the hope of meeting with a more humane and lenient administration.

The president will also be hoping to avoid the opinion poll damage done to his predecessors by crises at the border.

As the Statista infographic below shows, the number of people apprehended this year so far has already equalled the total number in 2020 and 2018.

U.S. Southern Border Apprehensions - Statista
Statista

Republicans are using the situation to attack Biden's immigration strategy and vindicate the Trump administration, which was criticized for separating children from their parents at the border, and for holding minors and adults in cramped, unsanitary camps. Hundreds of children have still not been reunited with their parents.

The situation at the border is also offering Republicans an opportunity to dodge criticism for opposing the president's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which is set to pass into law without any GOP backing in either chamber.

Senator Josh Hawley—who has been criticized for repeating Trump's baseless claims of electoral fraud and accused of inciting the Capitol rioters—wrote to Biden on Wednesday describing the situation as "a crisis" and "a full-blown emergency."

"I believe that border security is national security. If we fail to demonstrate to the American public that we are operating a controlled, fair, and orderly immigration system, then it erodes public trust in our institutions and the laws passed by Congress," Hawley wrote.

"And this is not just about the border, scaling back immigration enforcement can have a major impact on both the safety of American communities and the livelihood of American workers across our nation."

Senator Ted Cruz—also under fire for his efforts to block certification of the presidential election result and for his decision to go on vacation in Mexico during a power crisis in his home state of Texas—said on Twitter there was a "humanitarian crisis" at the border. He added: "The Biden admin still refuses to call it a crisis. Why is this so difficult for the Biden admin?"

House Republicans, too, are demanding more from the White House. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy blamed the president for the "staggering" situation at the border. "President Biden needs to step up and address this crisis that he created now," he wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Jim Jordan said there was a "flood" of migrants at the border, adding that the "Democrats' only plan is more amnesty." He tweeted: "This is Biden's Border Crisis." The Republican members of the House Committee on Appropriations have written a letter to the White House calling for a hearing on the matter "as soon as possible."

During Trump's term in office, the administration and Republicans in Congress regularly used reports of chaos at the southern border and migrant caravans as an electoral tool, hoping to mobilize the GOP's anti-immigration, nationalist base.

Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Trump declared a state of emergency and deployed troops along the border, prompting allegations that he was exaggerating the situation in the hope of retaining Republicans seats.

Trump allies in the GOP will be claiming that the current situation demonstrates a hardline border approach is the only option. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been tipped for a future Senate or White House run, wrote on Twitter that the new administration was "throwing away four years of strong foreign policy at the cost of American safety and security."

Pompeo added: "The number of unaccompanied minors at the border tripled over the past two weeks. It's simple: we should know who is coming in and out of our country."

Migrants protest at US-Mexico border Joe Biden
Migrants hold a demonstration calling for clearer U.S. migration policy at San Ysidro crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 2. GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images