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Byron York column: White House is in denial about border crisis

During the 2020 campaign, candidate Joe Biden promised to undo President Donald Trump’s border security policies. He pledged to halt all deportations for 100 days and allow asylum seekers who enter the United States illegally to stay in this country while their cases are considered, rather than wait in Mexico, as Trump required.

It was obvious that Biden’s changes would attract a flood of new illegal immigrants. So during the transition, the president-elect tried to lower expectations. In late December, Biden told reporters he would not throw out the Trump program immediately, lest the United States “end up with 2 million people on our border.” Instead, Biden said, he would take some time to set up “guardrails” to make sure his new system would work smoothly.

But prospective illegal border crossers still got the message: Come to the United States and you can stay. And now, under President Biden, they are not waiting for the new administration to set up “guardrails” to handle them. They are coming right now.

About 78,000 people tried to cross illegally into the U.S. in January, more than double the number from January 2020. In response, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki practically begged would-be illegal crossers not to stay away, but to wait a few weeks or months before illegally crossing. “Now is not the time to come, and the vast majority will be turned away,” Psaki said in early February. “Asylum processes at the border will not occur immediately; it will take time to implement.”

But the rush continues, with as many as 4,000 people trying each day to cross the border illegally. Many of them are children, and some of the youngest are not accompanied by an adult. The White House hasn’t figured out what to do with them. “The number of migrant kids is on pace to exceed the all-time record by 45% — and the administration doesn’t have enough beds,” Axios reported recently.

Amid it all, the administration has moved into full denial mode. This week Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted there is no crisis at the border. “The answer is no,” Mayorkas said at a White House briefing. “I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it.”

A reporter challenged Mayorkas. “Respectfully, sir, though, one of your predecessors, Jeh Johnson [President Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary], said that 1,000 illegal border crossings a day constitutes a crisis, that it overwhelms the system. We’re at between three and four thousand now, according to CBP officials. So how is this not a crisis?”

There’s no crisis at the border, Mayorkas repeated. It’s a “challenge.” “I have explained that quite clearly,” he said. “We are challenged at the border. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are meeting that challenge.” The Biden administration, he said, is “building the capacity to … meet our humanitarian aspirations in execution of the president’s vision.”

In the meantime, Mayorkas, like Psaki before him, asked people currently in Mexico to wait a while before crossing illegally into the United States. “We are not saying, ‘Don’t come,’” Mayorkas said. “We are saying, ‘Don’t come now,’ because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.”

That statement essentially served as the Biden administration’s official welcome announcement to those seeking to enter the United States illegally. Don’t do it just now, the administration said, because we’re still getting everything ready to receive you into this country.

But they’re not waiting. And why should they? Many are being allowed to stay right now. The Washington Examiner’s Anna Giaritelli recently reported that the Border Patrol released 350 migrants onto the streets in Yuma, Arizona, over the last two weeks. From Giaritelli: “Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls [said] the city lacks the resources, manpower and money to help the hundreds of people who, because Border Patrol lacks space and transportation, cannot be held or taken to Phoenix, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement would normally detain families. Instead, the federal government is releasing families directly into his community, putting the town of 96,000 residents in a predicament.”

So the crisis is here, whether the Biden administration will admit it or not. And with Mayorkas’ message to potential illegal crossers — please come, just give us a little time to prepare — the flow is sure to increase.

 

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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