After months of denial and obfuscation, political pressures have converged to force the Biden administration to finally acknowledge the seriousness of a disaster of its own making at the nation’s southern border.
As Fox News reports, President Joe Biden appeared to inadvertently confess that the overwhelming surge of migrants at the border is a “crisis” for the very first time on Saturday, using the escalating situation as justification for a controversial policy stance he took on another immigration-related issue just one day prior.
The president’s comments came during an exchange with reporters in Wilmington, Delaware when he attempted to explain an apparent policy reversal that had members of his own party fuming on Friday. That is when Biden signed an order that capped refugee admissions for this year at 15,000, a level set by former President Donald Trump, despite an earlier pledge to increase this year’s number to 62,500 and to raise the limit to 125,000 for the next fiscal year, as Politico noted.
Biden’s move drew the immediate ire of of immigrant advocates and Democrat lawmakers alike, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) lamenting, “Say it ain’t so, President Joe,” and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) calling the decision “unnaceptable” as well as “unconscionable,” as NPR noted. Jayapal joined Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in demanding the previously promised increase in refugee admissions, calling the current limits “unacceptably draconian and discriminatory.”
The pressure felt from the left flank of his party on the issue of refugees prompted Biden to take the surprise step of referring to the deteriorating conditions at the southern border in starker terms than he has ever done before, saying:
We’re going to increase the number [of refugees]. The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once.
As Fox News noted, Biden and members of his administration have long refused to characterize the influx of migrants at the border as a “crisis,” instead calling it a “challenge” caused by Trump-era immigration policies. However, the sheer number of migrant encounters reported in the past month alone and the emergence of shocking evidence of the appalling conditions in which unaccompanied youth are being held have given lie to that portrayal.
Another possible reason for Biden’s unusual momentary candor on the border situation – and his decision to limit refugee admissions for the time being – comes from recent poll results suggesting that the president is taking a significant approval hit over his handling of the migrant influx.
Administration concern over the current confluence of immigration challenges will likely be short-lived, however, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan vowing that the administration “will use all 15,000 [refugee] slots under the new Determination and work with Congress on increasing admissions and building back to the numbers to which we’ve committed.”
Biden’s admission about the current state of affairs at the border was undeniably overdue, but it remains to be seen whether it will result in a substantive policy shift, or it was just a cynical ploy to secure political cover after riling party progressives.