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White House searches for solution to border rush

The Biden administration is rushing to contain the situation at the border as a surge of migrant children threatens to become a humanitarian crisis with no easy solutions in sight.

Thousands of migrants have crossed the border in President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE’s first 50 days in office, with the White House acknowledging on Wednesday that the new president’s hopeful message for immigrants may be driving some people to make the dangerous trek despite pleas from administration officials that they stay home.

The White House is searching for new housing to accommodate the influx of unaccompanied minors as media reports indicate that thousands of young people are being kept for extended periods of time in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cells that are meant to temporarily house adult migrants.

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Even as the Biden administration stresses that people should not rush to the border, the White House announced Wednesday it would reestablish the Central American Minors program that was scrapped under the Trump administration. The program allows some children to join their parents in the U.S.

The program, available to children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, was one of the first nixed by Trump in 2017, leaving numerous cases in limbo. The White House said it could begin processing old cases as soon as next week, just as Congress is set to take up a number of immigration bills as part of “immigration week.”

Biden’s border czar, Roberta Johnson, said Wednesday that the administration is taking a holistic approach to addressing the root cause of the immigration surge, requesting billions in aid to lift at-risk communities abroad and huddling with leaders in Mexico and the Northern Triangle.

At the same time, the Biden administration is scrambling to deal with the fast-growing problems at the southern border, where officials appear overwhelmed by the flood of migrants seeking entry into the U.S. through irregular channels during a global pandemic.

“I want to be clear. ... The border is not open,” Jacobson said. “Going forward, we’ll look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection while we continue to enforce our laws. ... We have urgency from the president on down to fix our system and make sure we’re better at dealing with the hopes and dreams in their home country.”

Republicans are hammering the Biden administration over the border surge, calling it a crisis of their own making. They say Biden's new policies aimed at making it easier for people to stay in the country are acting as a magnet for distressed populations in Central American countries.

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“The backdrop behind this entire crisis is the giant push toward amnesty and insecurity that the administration advertised throughout the campaign and every time they stepped to the podium,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Trump signals he's ready to get back in the game Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “That’s what has enticed people to flood in.”

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyNYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force chief: Attacks are 'not new' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan MORE (R-Mo.) on Wednesday urged the Senate to call Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasDHS warns terrorists may attack as coronavirus restrictions ease Capitol riot fuels debate over domestic terror laws Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform MORE to testify, saying the secretary needed to answer for a “full-blown emergency” at the border. 

The Biden administration has already taken a number of actions to unwind what it has called inhumane policies established under the Trump administration.

It has established a task force to reunite families separated under Trump’s “zero tolerance” border policy. It has also begun processing the thousands of migrants barred from applying for asylum in the U.S. who were sent back to Mexico.

Jacobson said Wednesday that the U.S. has already processed 1,400 people through three ports of entry opened to process those blocked under Trump.

And on Monday, the administration announced it would allow some 300,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. to remain in the country by applying for temporary status.

It has also already faced lawsuits over its measures.

A Texas judge blocked Biden’s order directing a moratorium on deportation for his first 100 days in office, while Arizona, Montana and Florida have sued over a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy directing officers to focus on deporting those with a serious criminal history.

Under the policy, the number of immigrants taken into custody by ICE fell 60 percent in February, compared with the last three months of the Trump administration, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.  

“The Biden administration’s reckless policy of refusing to do their jobs and deport criminals, places all those gains and Floridians' public safety at risk,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) said in a release announcing the suit Tuesday, calling it a “radical shift” that places Floridians in danger.

In a moment of candor on Wednesday, Johnson acknowledged that the dramatic change in policies and tone from the Trump administration to the Biden administration is partly to blame for the border surge.

“We’ve seen surges before. Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent-up demand,” Johnson said. “So I don’t know that I’d call that a coincidence, but I think the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision [to migrate to the U.S.].” 

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The Biden administration has repeatedly declined to describe the conditions at the border as a “crisis” despite coming under pressure from Republicans and the White House press corps to label it as one.

A CBS analysis of government documents found that 1,400 children were kept in CBP facilities for longer than the sanctioned 72 hours as the administration looks for ways to move them to shelters operated by Health and Human Services that provide education, health care and legal services.

The Biden administration had previously opened a migrant holding facility in Texas despite having been fiercely critical of the Trump administration for operating similar facilities.

“We recognize that incumbent on us and this administration is to continue to work day and night to expedite the process of ensuring there are the resources and processes in place to move children from the border patrol facilities to the shelters,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE said Wednesday. “It is incumbent on our administration to look for additional facilities that can safely house children and incumbent upon us to ensure that we’re communicating effectively and efficiently to the region. ... Those are all focuses of the president on down every single day.”