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Reporters aren’t in the practice, obviously, of being particularly tough on President Biden. But at his first press conference as president this afternoon, Cecilia Vega of ABC News politely nailed him to the wall on a key failure of his border policy.
She told an affecting story of meeting a nine-year-old boy at the border who had walked to the U.S. from Honduras, and said that when she called the boy’s mother, the woman explained that she had sent him to the U.S. because she believed that Biden would let him into the country.
This, of course, is exactly why there’s been a surge at the border. Biden created an exemption in Title 42 — the public-health authority that President Trump had used to turn back migrants during the pandemic — specifically for minors, and predictably there’s been a surge of minors.
In evading this reality throughout the press conference, Biden resorted to a haze of misrepresentations, and inadvertently exposed the senselessness of his own policy.
In response to Vega, he echoed a distortion often made by his Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and said that Trump had dumped children into the Mexican desert. Except Biden made the charge even more lurid by alleging that Trump had let children starve to death.
This is a disgraceful and stupid charge. The Trump administration either flew back migrants to their home countries directly or handed them over to Mexican authorities to do the same. No one was pushed into the desert.
Also, in response to Vega, he said that the nine-year-old boy should be returned to his mother in Honduras. But that was precisely the Trump policy that Biden overturned and now falsely portrays as inhumane. Under Biden’s policy, that nine-year-old is likely in an HHS detention facility and will not be returned home, instead placed with the nearest relative that can be found in the United States.
If Biden wants to begin returning minors to their families back home, a laudable goal, he could do it immediately — all it takes is reversing himself on Title 42.
The rest of Biden’s statements about the border weren’t any more accurate or sensible.
He said that family units are all being turned back at the border. First, we know this is not true. Reports suggest that most family units are now getting into the United States. Second, it’s not clear why this stated policy of returning family units wouldn’t, on Biden’s terms, be just as immoral as returning minors.
He said that the reason even more family units aren’t being returned is that Mexico can’t take more of them. Again, if it’s okay to send migrants back into Mexico, it makes no sense that Biden ended Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program, which had asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico while their asylum claims were adjudicated in the United States.
Biden said that Trump’s policies had no effect at the border. This is demonstrably false. Trump had gotten control of the border prior to the onset of the pandemic.
He blamed Trump for reducing shelters for migrants, a truly absurd charge. Trump only closed the surge facilities set up during the crisis of 2018–2019 because they were no longer needed, and, besides, Democrats agitated to shut down these facilities.
Overall, Biden gave no indication that he understands how he has stoked the current crisis or that he knows how to address it. His emphasis was on improved processing of the migrants that are coming, rather than persuading them to stay home. That will inevitably mean more families in Central America deciding to send their children on the harrowing journey north, whether Biden wants to acknowledge it or not.