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Analysis: Southwest border crisis leaves Biden vulnerable on all sides

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As is often the case, the plight of desperate people fleeing poverty, repression, crime, and natural disasters in the hope of a better life in the United States is suffering in the maelstrom of Washington politics. That so many of those involved are so young and wrapped up in detention centers in the midst of a pandemic makes it even more tragic.

The rise in migrant footsteps in recent weeks has allowed Republicans to open up to the brand President Joe Biden so naive and gentle with illegal immigration. But he is also being pressured from his own party by progressives distressed by the arrest of hundreds of youthful border crossers. The controversy exacerbates tensions in Congress as Democrats introduce the first immigration bills this week: one that provides a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were children and another that grants legal protection for migrant farm workers, which may end up being blocked by Republicans. in the Senate 50-50.

It also raises the question of whether border security and the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States – issues that challenged Republican and Democratic presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan – can ever be resolved given the current polarization of the nation and the rich political incentives to be exploited for shallow political ends.

Border conflagration is especially timely for the Republican Party, as immigration is an issue on which lawmakers on both pro- and anti-government sidesDonald Trump divide in the party can unite. There is nothing like the immigration rhetoric of scorched earth to cheer the popular base and make a fuss on conservative cable television. The basis of Trump’s appeal in 2016 was often racist rhetoric about immigration, although it is less clear that his exaggerations of border crises and immigrant crime helped Republicans in 2018 and 2020. .

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy hit all immigration buttons during a border trip Monday, seizing the opportunity to divert attention from the popular Covid-19 rescue law of 1.9 billions of dollars from Biden and a vaccine that has left most Americans happy with the president’s management. the pandemic.

“It’s more than a crisis. That’s human discouragement,” the California Republican said near the U.S.-Mexico border. “This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There is no other way to claim it than the Biden border crisis.”

McCarthy’s empathy for the victims of a complicated humanitarian history could have been genuine. But he was also a staunch supporter of the previous administration, which pursued an inhumane zero-tolerance program that separated children from their parents at the border and left hundreds of children whose parents cannot yet be traced.

McCarthy also borrowed Trump-style rhetoric, with alarmist conversations of immigrants sneaking into the border after traveling from Muslim-majority nations or poor non-white poor, sometimes linked to terrorism that can cause racial prejudice to United States. He said he had asked Border Patrol officers who they were catching.

In addition to people from Central America, the response was, “Yemen, Iran, Sri Lanka. This is what is being found … They even talked about Chinese,” McCarthy said, at a time when every there is growing concern about -Asian violence in the US following a pandemic originating in China.

What to call a crisis?

While Republicans take advantage of the difficult circumstances of the border to gain political benefits, there is no doubt that what is unfolding should be portrayed as a “crisis.”

The sudden increase in children crossing the border alone has exposed a change in policy on the part of the Biden administration. When Trump was president, border officials had been deporting migrants, including children, after establishing a pandemic-related public health order. While the Biden administration largely follows this policy for adults and families, it has allowed children to come to the United States alone, resulting in more minors in federal custody.

More than 4,000 children are trapped in rudimentary facilities managed by the Border Patrol. On Monday, officials told CNN that the administration would do so use the Dallas Convention Center to house boys aged 15-17 to give time to immigration hearings.

The federal government is often caught up in immigration crises, sudden health emergencies, and national disasters. The bureaucracy can take weeks to get started. And global policies, such as trying to stabilize nations like Honduras or El Salvador, where many migrants come from, can take years to stifle the pace of arrivals at the border.

But it is difficult to argue that the Biden administration’s handling of the policy of child migrant waves has been skillful. The struggle reflects an administration that has already been challenged to deal with the vastness of the pandemic that hit the border flap before there were key officials or there was time to properly plan or implement new policies.

The White House has spent days declining to call border crossings a “crisis,” a semantic game that runs the risk of leaving the impression that it did not necessarily give the attention it required to a serious issue. But presidents also don’t have the luxury of choosing their crises, especially the early ones that can define perceptions of a new administration.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was limited to defining definitions Monday, with Republicans ready to attack any mistake.

“We recognize that this is a big problem,” Psaki said in an exchange with CNN’s Phil Mattingly, when asked if the border was caught in a disaster.

“(We) always delve into the fun of labels out there, but I would say our focus is on solutions,” Psaki said. “Clearly the numbers are huge. This is a big challenge and it is certainly a reflection of using all the levers of the federal government to help fix it,” he said.

New urgency

The Dallas Convention Center will be used to accommodate migrant teens

The administration has begun to show greater urgency. It has relocated personnel from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security to border states. The new Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help manage children who have crossed the border. Biden sent a team of senior officials to the border earlier this month.

But the cornerstone of White House public statements remains Trump’s fault.

“The last administration left us with a dismantled and unfeasible system and, like any other problem, we will do our best to fix it,” Psaki said.

Presidents often blame the first problems on their predecessors. But it is not a position that is sustainable for long, as the occupants of the oval office are expected to solve the toughest problems.

While Biden is successfully projecting an empathetic head of state who is in the worst national emergency since World War II, he has appeared a little overwhelmed by events on the border. Although its approval rating was 51% on a CNN / SSRS last week’s poll, a level Trump never reached, only 43% of citizens approve of his immigration treatment, a potential warning sign.

One of the issues that the White House may have to address more directly is the possible perception that a more humane immigration policy means it is a good time for migrants to cross the border.

Top White House officials have repeatedly warned that potential migrants should not have this impression.

In December, Biden, who was still president-elect, said he was worried that lifting Trump’s tough policies too quickly could cause “2 million people on our border.”

The new White House has put an end to former president’s “Stay in Mexico” policy, which forced migrants to stay south of the border to wait for their asylum cases to be known in U.S. courts. The fact that some people who were previously covered by the system have been introduced to the United States may have provoked mixed messages about the real situation.

The New York Times reported Sunday that to many of the undocumented migrants facing arduous and dangerous journeys through Mexico human smugglers have said that Biden has opened the border for them.

This raises the question of whether a more personal and direct warning may be needed for migrants not to attempt a dangerous crossing (penetrating foreign media markets) by the president himself.

This message with Biden’s commercial empathy could be a key topic at the new administration’s first formal presidential press conference, which officials say will take place this month.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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