The Biden administration’s southwestern border coordinator, Roberta Jacobson, told reporters during a White House briefing Wednesday that the administration’s “more humane” immigration policies may be driving the migrant surge at the southern border and encouraging smugglers.
“Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent up demand,” she told reporters.
The former ambassador to Mexico said “the idea that a more humane policy would be in place” under Biden may have driven a surge in people choosing to arrive at the southern border in an “irregular fashion,” while blaming human smugglers for promoting “disinformation” about the law changes and urging people not to listen to them.
“We’re going to try our best to do everything we can at each end of this, in the United States but especially in Central America and Mexico, to ensure we have safe, orderly, and legal migration,” she said.
Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, during their presidential campaigns, emphasized reversing the Trump-era immigration policies and making it easier for people needing protection to apply and get asylum in the United States.
Referring to former President Donald Trump’s immigration message, she said, “I think it’s really important to understand that you can’t and shouldn’t say, in this administration’s opinion, that the only way to message, ‘Do not come in an irregular fashion,’ is to act as cruelly as you possibly can, separate children from their parents, return people to places like migrant camp and Matamoros for up to two plus years at a time and that’s the only way that you can get your message across.”
Jacobson said that Biden’s team has been working to reform the nation’s immigration policies since arriving in the White House to what it says will be “a more humane and efficient system.” But she said it will take time.
“We are trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. We are trying to convey to everyone in the region that we will have legal processes in the future … But at the same time, you cannot come through irregular means. It’s dangerous and the majority of people will be sent out of the United States because that is the truth of it,” she said. “We want to be honest with people. And so we are trying to send both messages and smugglers are only trying to send one message. So we’re relying on every means we can to get that message out there.”
“The border is not open,” Jacobson said in Spanish and in English.
She added that Biden’s vision is to “fix our system and make sure that we are better at dealing with the hopes and the dreams of these migrants in their home country.”
The administration is requesting $4 billion from Congress to mitigate immigration challenges, with a focus on providing aid to the home countries from which migrants are coming.
However, Jacobson admitted that the United States doesn’t have magical leverage over Northern Triangle countries to ensure that aid is being used to address issues like “lack of good governance, economic opportunity, and security issues or violence.”
She said Biden will work to get commitments from regional leaders, charities, and NGO organizations to address local corruption and transparency issues before any money is changed hands.
“We can encourage them. We can help support them with resources, both technical assistance and funding, but we can’t make those changes. The changes have to come in the Northern Triangle countries,” she said.
Jacobson also confirmed that the administration is planning to restart the Central American Minors program, allowing minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to apply for refugee settlement in the United States from their home countries.
According to multiple reports, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that the number of migrant children in custody along the southern border is currently more than 3,250—more than triple the number from two weeks ago. Of those children, more than 1,360 have been staying at holding cells longer than the three days allowed by law.
In February, Border Patrol apprehended 100,441 illegal border crossers along the southern border, according to Customs and Border Protection. Nearly 9,300 were unaccompanied children.