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Homeland Security Chief Alejandro Mayorkas to visit border with bipartisan group of senators

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will visit the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso on Friday with a group of bipartisan senators amid pressure on President Joe Biden to solve surge of migrant crossings.

The trip will be closed to the media – ‘due to privacy and COVID-19 precautions,’ the Department of Homeland Security said – and will not contain a press briefing afterward.

News organizations have been requesting permission to visit the shelters housing thousands of migrant children amid reports the kids don’t have enough beds to sleep in or food to eat.

Federal officials have repeatedly denied access to the press although lawyers and some human rights groups have gotten inside. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday the administration hopes to have an answer on the press visits ‘soon.’

‘The White House and we all in the administration support finding a way to grant access to the media to the … shelters where these children are staying for a temporary period of time,’ she said. ‘We remain committed to transparency, and we’re considering potential options, and we hope to have an update on that soon.’ 

Mayorkas’ group on Friday will ‘view operations and receive a briefing on the processing, shelter, and transfer of unaccompanied children arriving at our border,’ the DHS said in a statement.

The Homeland Security secretary will be accompanied by Democratic Senators Gary Peters and Chris Murphy and Republican Senators Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will visit the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso on Friday with a group of bipartisan senators

Migrants from Central America are detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents as they turn themselves in to request asylum, after crossing into El Paso

Migrants from Central America are detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents as they turn themselves in to request asylum, after crossing into El Paso

Migrants detained by US Customs and Border Protection are pictured in a makeshift holding facility beneath "Paso Del Norte" bridge, between downtown El Paso and Ciudad Juarez

Migrants detained by US Customs and Border Protection are pictured in a makeshift holding facility beneath “Paso Del Norte” bridge, between downtown El Paso and Ciudad Juarez

Republicans have blamed the record number of border crossings on the Biden administration, claiming the president’s repeal of Donald Trump’s stricter policies has led to the surge.

But Biden administration officials, including the president himself, have said the border is closed and asked migrants not to come. 

‘I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,’ Biden told ABC News in an interview this week.

‘Don’t leave your town or city or community,’ he added.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday defended the administration, saying the president has the situation on the border under control.

‘The Biden administration has this under control. It has changed and will take some time, but it is values based, humanitarian in its aspects,’ she said at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.

The number of migrants being stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border has been rising steadily since last April, and the Biden administration is still rapidly expelling most single adults and families under a public health order issued by Trump, Title 42, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is allowing teens and children to stay, at least temporarily, and they have been coming in ever larger numbers.

More than 4,000 migrant children were being held by the Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, including at least 3,000 in custody longer than the 72-hour limit set by a court order, a U.S. official told AP. 

Mayorkas said in a detailed statement this week that even greater numbers of migrants are expected.

‘We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,’ Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas conceded that a surge in the number of children, mostly from Central America, is a challenge for the Border Patrol and other agencies amid the coronavirus pandemic. But he rejected a Trump-era policy of sending them immediately back to Mexico or other countries.

‘They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration´s practice of expelling them,’ Mayorkas said in his most detailed statement yet on a situation at the border that he characterized as ‘difficult’ but not the crisis that critics have portrayed.

The White House has refused to call the situation at the border a ‘crisis.’ 

Psaki walked back her own comment during the Thursday briefing when she referred to a ‘crisis’ at the border. That is a word that Mayorkas pointedly would not use during his own turn at the White House podium. Instead, Mayorkas called it ‘undoubtedly difficult’ at a House hearing Wednesday.

Psaki was speaking about a simultaneous push to lend Mexico and Canada AstraZeneca vaccine doses, even as the U.S. seeks commitments from Mexico on immigration.   

‘There have been expectations set … unrelated to any vaccine doses or requests for them that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border. And there have been requests unrelated for doses of these vaccines,’ she said, denying a connection. ‘Every relationship has multiple layers of conversations that are happening at the same time,’ she explained.

When reminded by a reporter that she had used the word ‘crisis’ – which is out of step with what the administration calls it – she said ‘challenges on the border.’ 

Asked if it reflected a change in position, Psaki replied: ‘Nope,’ and quickly moved on. 

The administration is struggling to house a surge of migrant children as they work to process the minors so the children can be transferred to Department of Health and Human Services shelters where they would stay until they could be united with family members already in the U.S. or with a sponsor. 

The children are supposed to be transferred to DHS within three days of being caught by border agents.

Border agents are apprehending more than 400 children a day, however, which is many more than the number of children that HHS is processing and releasing to sponsors.

And more than 4,200 kids are being held in jail-like stations unfit to house them, according to government records reviewed by CBS News, with 3,000 held past the legal limit.

The Biden administration has opened new centers in Midland and Carrizo Springs, Texas, to help alleviate the overcrowding caused by the record number of migrants. 

The administration also directed the shelters to return to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, social distancing and other health protocols were in place to combat the disease. 

 Biden lifted the Trump policy that required migrants to remain in Mexico while going through the legal process to enter the U.S., narrowed the ICE’s criteria for arrests and deportations and stopped the building of Trump’s border wall.

Last month, 100,000 migrants were caught trying to cross the southern border –  up 30 percent from January. 

And numbers are continuing to increase this month, with 125,000 migrants expected to arrive along the border in March, according to current data. 

That is the highest number in years.


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