Just two months after the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, the U.S.-Mexico border is again at the center of national attention. Whether you call it a “surge” or a “crisis,” many more migrants—including unaccompanied minors—are arriving each day from Central America, exceeding the Biden administration’s capacity to handle the flow. Border Patrol recorded more than a hundred thousand “encounters” in February alone, the highest in two decades.
On the surface at least, Biden’s response to the uptick looks a lot like Trump’s. Most single adults and families, some with infants and young children, are being expelled immediately to Mexico under Title 42, a public-health rule implemented at the beginning of the pandemic by the Trump administration. But some adults and families apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley have been flown eight hundred miles away for deportation in El Paso, with a few families inadvertently separated on either side of the border. This alone is alarming. Even worse is the fact that there are now more than four thousand minors in federal custody. They are held first in Border Patrol detention cells, then in crowded Health and Human Services facilities as they await placement with sponsors elsewhere in the United States.
The reasons for the increase are complex. In addition to the poverty, crime, and corruption in the Central American countries from which the migrants are fleeing, the Biden administration points to the recent hurricanes in Honduras, which displaced thousands, along with the economic disruption caused by the pandemic. Sensing a political opening for the 2022 midterms, Republicans have placed the blame squarely on Biden, denouncing his administration’s friendliness to migrants as an open invitation to illegal immigration and stoking fears of “super-spreader caravans” traveling through “open borders.”