The Biden administration reiterated on March 10 that the U.S.–Mexico border is “not open,” while also expressing a desire to “expand safe and legal avenues to the United States,” as it announced the restarting of a program to help minors be reunited with a parent legally in the United States.
At a daily press briefing, Special Assistant to the President & Coordinator for the Southern Border Ambassador Roberta Jacobson told reporters the United States “must build a better immigration system that reflects our values as Americans.” Press secretary Jen Psaki also was at the briefing.
Jacobson said the administration is “rethinking asylum processing to ensure fair and faster consideration,” and said President Joe Biden is committed to seeking “$4 billion over 4 years to address the root causes of migration.” The government has already begun specific actions to undo the previous administration’s policies, she said.
She also announced the restarting of the “Central American Minors Program,” which Jacobson said helps “children to be reunited with a parent who is legally in the United States.” This program was ended by the previous administration.
At the same time, Jacobson discouraged migrants from physically crossing the border in order to enter the country.
“I want to be clear, neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion,” she said.
“The border is not open,” she said. “Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protections while we continue to enforce our laws. This is a process.”
There were a record 3,200 migrant children stuck in Border Patrol facilities as of March 8, with nearly half held beyond the three-day legal limit, according to CBS News. It comes as the United States sees a surge of illegal immigrants and unaccompanied minors in recent months.
In a March 9 statement, former President Donald Trump criticized the new administration’s handling border security, stating, “Our country is being destroyed at the Southern border.”
When asked by a reporter if the situation at the border is a crisis, Jacobson sidestepped the question.
“I’m not trying to be cute here, but I think that the fact of the matter is that we have to do what we do, regardless of what anybody calls this situation,” she said. “We are all focused on improving the situation, on changing to a more humane and efficient system.”
When asked about the high number of unaccompanied minors, Jacobson repeated her previous points.
“It’s really important that people not make the dangerous journey in the first place, that we provide them alternatives to making that journey because it’s not safe en route,” she said. “It’s really important that that message gets out because the perception is not the same as the reality in terms of the border not being open.”
Mexico’s government is worried that the new U.S. administration’s asylum policies are stoking illegal immigration and creating business for organized crime, according to officials and internal assessments seen by Reuters.
Detentions on the U.S. border have surged since Biden took office on Jan. 20. Mexico has urged Washington to help stem the flow by providing development aid to Central America.
“They see him as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States,” Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador said of Biden the morning after a virtual meeting with his U.S. counterpart on March 1.
“We need to work together to regulate the flow, because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.”
Previously unreported details in the internal assessments, based on testimonies and intelligence-gathering, state that gangs are diversifying methods of smuggling and winning clients as they eye U.S. measures that will “incentivize migration.”
Apprehensions on the U.S.–Mexico border in February hit levels unseen since mid-2019, and were the highest for that month in 15 years, data reported by Reuters showed.
Among the U.S. steps that Mexico worries are encouraging migration are improved support for victims of gangs and violence, streamlining of the legalization process, and suspension of Trump-era accords that deported people to Central America.
Reuters contributed to this report.