Biden administration faces GOP outcry for saying no border ‘crisis’

House Republicans call for hearings, White House meeting, on the rising number of migrant children crossing the U.S. border

Rep. James R. Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, during a hearing last August.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. James R. Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, during a hearing last August. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 5, 2021 at 5:27pm

Congressional Republicans ramped up calls to the Biden administration and Democratic leaders for meetings on the rising number of migrant children crossing the U.S. border, pushing back on the administration’s claim that the border is not in “crisis.”

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel have asked Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. — the respective chairwomen of those panels —  to hold hearings on the escalating situation at the border. 

“The Committee must hear from Biden Administration officials about their plans to mitigate this crisis, since it is a direct result of President Biden’s unraveling of the prior administration’s strict, deterrent-focused border policies,” Oversight and Reform Republicans, led by ranking member Rep. James R. Comer of Kentucky, wrote in a letter Thursday to Maloney. 

They also implied their Democratic colleagues were holding a double standard by having numerous hearings on President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, while failing so far to hold the new administration accountable. 

“Your silence on this issue in the last five weeks unfortunately suggests that you do not plan to hold the Biden Administration to the same standard to which you held the Trump Administration,” Rep. Tom McClintock of California, the top Republican on the immigration panel, and his colleagues told Lofgren in a separate letter.  

Two dozen House Republicans, including some from the oversight committee, further urged President Joe Biden in another note Friday to reinstate Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border, which Trump used to justify raiding defense funds to finance a wall.

[As more migrant children arrive, Biden faces political hurdles]

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also requested a meeting with Biden himself to discuss recent migration trends.

“I feel compelled to express great concern with the manner in which your administration is approaching this crisis, but with hope that we can work together to solve it,” McCarthy told the president in a letter Friday.

Asked about McCarthy’s request, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing that Biden would “welcome” meetings with both Democrats and Republicans eager to discuss “a constructive path forward.”

“Well, first, the president and this administration's focus is on digging out of the dismantled and inhumane immigration approach of the last administration and that's why the president has proposed an immigration bill that would not only address the root causes that leader McCarthy referenced in his letter, but would move beyond the policy of funding ineffective border walls by investing in smart security at ports of entry and would also create a pathway to citizenship,” Psaki said. 

She also confirmed that Biden has asked senior White House officials to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to brief him on the government’s response to the rising numbers of children coming to the U.S., but said the date and time of the trip will remain confidential. 

Representatives for Lofgren, Maloney and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Republicans’ concerns.

The outcry on the Hill comes as Biden administration officials have repeatedly pushed back against labeling the situation at the border a “crisis.” Instead, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters at a March 1 briefing that there is a “challenge at the border that we are managing.”

Republicans have insisted otherwise, stressing there is a border “crisis” and blaming Biden’s efforts to reverse some of his predecessor’s asylum restrictions for the influx in migration. 

Border agents encountered more than 5,700 unaccompanied migrant children in January, according to the most recent data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That is more than in any month in fiscal 2020 and the highest since 5,846 were encountered in July of 2019, but less than half of the 11,861 recorded in May of 2019.

The Department of Health and Human Services had approximately 7,600 migrant children in its care at the end of February — more than double the number of children in HHS custody the same time last year. 

The Biden administration has responded by reopening an influx shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that can hold up to 700 teenagers to help reduce capacity at licensed shelters and maintain social distancing. The administration has come under fire by immigrant advocates for its decision to use an influx shelter, which is located on federal land and not subject to state license requirements.