US-Mexico border sees surge of unaccompanied minors. What does this mean for the Biden administration?

A U.S. border patrol agent looks out over Tijuana, Mexico from the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Diego, California, U.S., February 2, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake

An increasing number of unaccompanied minors have been trying to enter the U.S. via the Mexico border. More than 400 of them were arrested today alone, and thousands are now in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The surge has forced the White House to push back on criticism from former President Trump and other Republicans that Joe Biden is soft on border security, and that reversing Trump’s hard-line immigration policies is creating a crisis at the border. 

“In March of last year when the coronavirus pandemic really swept across the western hemisphere, the Trump administration took this unprecedented step of invoking a public health law. And what that did was allow border officials to turn away migrants at the border — that's single adults, families, and unaccompanied children — with the justification that it was for the public health,” explains Priscilla Alvarez, CNN reporter who covers immigration politics and policy.

She says the Biden administration is still leaning on that policy, but in some situations, they allowed some families and unaccompanied children to enter. 

What’s also challenging now is the lack of space at immigration shelters due to COVID-19 precautions, she notes. “And so they're having a very hard time keeping up with the number of children that are crossing.” 

It’s tough to tell where this is all headed as the country is still in the middle of a pandemic, Alvarez says. 

“The Biden administration has wanted to move away from Trump era policies, but on the border, they are still relying on that public health policy to turn away the vast majority of people that are being encountered. So there is still a lot that they're working through as they pull back the Trump administration policies, and try to sort out the immigration system and address the root causes of migration moving forward.”

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