US Republicans are seizing on a surge in the number of children trying to enter the United States through the southwest border with Mexico to attack the Biden administration as a new crisis develops in US border facilities.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives, on Monday led a delegation of Republican members of Congress to the US border with Mexico.
“The security of our nation and our border is first and foremost the responsibility of our president,” McCarthy said at a news conference near El Paso, Texas, pointing to an increase in border crossings since President Joe Biden was elected.
“This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it, than a Biden border crisis,” McCarthy said.
“It’s more than a crisis. It’s human heartbreak,” he said.
US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) last week released statistics showing agents intercepted more than 100,000 people trying to cross the southwest US border in February, a 28 percent increase from January. Many are children and families seeking to enter the US.
More than 3,600 children are being held at border detention facilities.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that hundreds of children and teenagers were packed into a border patrol tent facility in Texas. Lawyers who conduct oversight of the detention centres told the news agency that some were sleeping on the floor while others had not been able to shower for five days.
The AP reported on Monday that US federal agencies are looking into moving as many as 3,000 teenagers into a convention centre in Dallas amid the surge.
CBP said the increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the US, particularly unaccompanied children, began in April 2020 as a result of gang violence, natural disasters, hunger and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
While many of the adults apprehended attempting to cross the border undocumented are being deported, US law requires unaccompanied children to be cared for and placed in temporary homes.
The Biden administration during the weekend called in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help build shelters to accommodate them.
“It’s a complicated problem, no doubt about it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday when pressed by reporters on the challenge the Biden administration is confronting at the border.
“We are sending the message clearly in the region, ‘Now is not the time to come.’ But also, we want to ensure that people are treated with humanity, who are children, who are unaccompanied children. That’s who we are as a country and so we are doing both,” Psaki said.
Rebecca Hamlin, a professor of law and politics at the University of Massachusetts and author of a forthcoming book on migration policies, said Republican complaints appear “nakedly partisan” and designed to motivate the “Republican base”.
The previous Trump administration, by forcing everyone seeking asylum in the US to remain in Mexico, “created one of the most dangerous, poor-quality, unsanitary, crowded refugee camps in the world”, Hamlin told Al Jazeera.
“What we did was keep the border crisis on the other side of the border,” she said.
The only way to really solve that problem now, Hamlin said, is to invest more resources to process individuals crossing the border, and the Biden administration has not yet asked Congress for the funding that would be necessary.
“It’s a tricky situation for them politically,” said Michael Jones-Correa, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Immigration.
“Given the history of children in cages during the Trump administration, the Biden administration clearly doesn’t want to repeat that,” Jones-Correa told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not the political situation the Biden administration wanted to find itself in,” he said.