The Biden administration found itself in a predictable pickle in early February when rising numbers of unaccompanied minors were arriving at the Southwest border, in large part due to months of messaging that border enforcement would no longer be a priority. Since the reversals of Trump immigration policies were so public, reversing the reversals would look bad. But the government-run facilities designed to care for unaccompanied minors were reaching 90 percent capacity.
An Axios report cited an administration official saying that they were “so afraid of making any decision because of optics.” They acted and the optics are not good and the administration’s reaction is making them worse.
When the Trump administration used temporary facilities to house unaccompanied minors, candidate Biden expressed disgust at the “horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages,” while then-Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris told an audience at an NAACP forum in 2019 that “putting babies in cages at the border in the name of security” was “a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government.”
Well, on Monday the first group of child migrants arrived at a temporary shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and the Miami Herald reported that a for-profit facility in Homestead, Florida, would also be accepting unaccompanied minors. Those are the same facilities – or cages – that drew such scorn in 2019.
“This is not kids being kept in cages,” countered White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday when pressed by Fox News reporter Steve Doocy about the administration’s apparent hypocrisy. “That is never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the [Trump] administration,” she added.
Since Psaki was a State Department spokeswoman during the Obama-Biden administration, she is well aware that the for-profit Homestead “cages” were constructed and used in 2014 when similarly mixed messaging from the Obama administration created a border crisis.
The explanation was not sufficient from liberal members of Congress.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
She added that the Department of Homeland Security “shouldn’t exist, agencies should be reorganized” and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement “gotta go, ban for-profit detention, create climate refugee status & more.”
Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell advised the administration to “seriously reconsider ” their decision to re-open the Homestead facility, which was closed after public outrage. Unable to explain how the same facilities are radically different from one administration to another, Psaki tried in Wednesday’s briefing to argue the president chose the best of a range of bad options.
“We have a couple of options. We can send them back home and do a dangerous journey back. We are not doing that either; that is also putting them at risk. We can quickly transfer them from [Customs and Border Protection] to these HHS-run facilities. That’s one option. Or we can put them with families and sponsors without any vetting,” argued Psaki.
“I think the difficulty is what I outlined earlier we have kids coming across the border. It is heartbreaking and we only have a couple of choices,” she concluded without acknowledging their lack of good choices is a consequence of their bad choices related to immigration policy.
First, the Biden administration discontinued the practice of sending unaccompanied minors back to Mexico or to their native nations if they were not traveling with a parent, a decision which limits the options, particularly amidst an ongoing pandemic.
Second, it is clear that after months of promising to open the immigration gates that telling migrants now “is not the right time to come” is not being heard and is leading to more confusion.
Because of a “Lack of clarity and timing over when information about border policies will be rescinded, our team and immigrant advocates alike have been scrambling to advise clients,” said Linda Rivas of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
While the Biden administration merits scorn for an incredible demonstration in political hypocrisy, the real scandal is how unprepared the White House and relevant agencies have been to a crisis that has been in plain sight for months. The Biden administration is being staffed with Obama veterans who should know what happens when the laws are erratically enforced and the messaging is unclear. Sadly, it is the children who are paying the price for the errors of adults.