The Biden administration is promising a comprehensive response to youth migration now that the immediate crisis of unaccompanied minors overwhelming U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations appears to be under control.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told U.S. lawmakers Thursday that the Biden administration has reduced the number of unaccompanied minors held at border stations from the thousands to the hundreds, and cut the average holding time from more than five days to less than 24 hours.
"The challenge is not behind us, but the results are dramatic,” Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, adding that migrant children are being united more quickly with parents or legal guardians in the U.S.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed America’s southern border so far this year in what has become an early and thorny challenge for President Joe Biden, who since taking office on January 20 has reversed some of former President Donald Trump restrictive immigration policies.
While Mayorkas noted that the increase in migrant arrivals at America’s southern border began last year during the final months of the Trump administration, Republicans insisted the situation has grown far more dire on Biden’s watch.
“The crisis today is unprecedented, far worse than it was last year, and even substantially worse than 2019 when everyone considered it a crisis,” Republican Senator Rob Portman said.
“I'd often say the first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one. And it just does seem like we're in an utter state of denial,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.
While touting improvements in processing times for migrant youths, Mayorkas said the administration is focused on longer-term solutions to the phenomenon of uncontrolled migration.
“We are building legal pathways for children and others to come to the United States if they qualify under the laws that Congress passed many years ago, so that they do not think that they have to take the dangerous journey north,” he said.
The administration’s proposed spending plans for next year include $861 million in aid to Central America to fight corruption, violence and poverty — factors many migrants cite as compelling them to trek to the United States. Overall, the White House envisions a multibillion-dollar four-year effort to reduce the impetus of people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to migrate north.
Mayorkas said a sustained effort is needed because “surges arise periodically,” and “migration is a very dynamic and fluid challenge that we have faced for many, many years.”