In an interview with NBC News on April 30, President Joe Biden stated that “we have now gotten control” at the border, premised on the fact that the number of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) in Border Patrol custody has dropped. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), however, disagreed on Fox News on May 2, asserting: “To say that we have everything under control — you know I'm supportive of President Biden, I'm a supporter of his — but we're not paying attention to the border's communities.”
On March 18, NPR reported that 4,600 UACs were being held in CBP facilities, and that more than 500 had been in those facilities for 10 days and longer. As I have noted numerous times in the past, those stations and processing centers were built to accommodate single adults (mostly males) for brief periods of time — not children for days.
Under a 2008 law, most of those children are supposed to be transferred to shelters run or contracted for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours.
Unaccompanied children are now being more quickly processed out of CBP detention. The New York Times reported on April 30 that, as of last Friday, detention times for unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody were down to an average of 28 hours, from 133 hours a month before.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for setting up emergency shelters for those children. There are now more than a dozen such HHS shelters, at a cost of $62 million per week.
Nonetheless, the number of children in HHS custody rose to more than 22,500 as of the end of last week. That is a more than 89 percent increase over the month before, when there were 11,886 children in HHS shelters.
Pursuant to that 2008 law, most unaccompanied children are supposed to be placed with “sponsors” in the United States (the vast majority of whom, according to past surveys, are themselves in the United States illegally). CNN reported on April 30 that the Biden administration has shortened the time that it takes to place those children with sponsors from 40 days on February 22 to 29 days.
Interestingly, CNN also revealed that “reuniting” children with “a parent or guardian” is taking less time: “about 22 days”. That (1) calls into question whether those children were ever “unaccompanied” in the United States at all; and (2) strongly suggests that some, most, or all of those parents may have paid their children’s smugglers to begin with.
But I digress. The president and major news outlets seem to be pushing the same story — that because children are not sleeping on the floor in Border Patrol stations for days under Mylar blankets, the Southwest border is under control. As noted, that is not how Rep. Cuellar views it.
Responding to the president’s failure to discuss the situation at the border in his April 28 joint address to Congress, Cuellar stated: “There is a border crisis, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”
His statements were echoed by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who explained on April 28:
While I share President Biden's urgency in fixing our broken immigration system, what I didn't hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border, and I will continue holding this administration accountable to deliver the resources and staffing necessary for a humane, orderly process as we work to improve border security, support local economies, and fix our immigration system.
Of course, there would be no need to address a “crisis” that the president has refused to term as such (except for one slip-up, quickly corrected by the White House), and that Biden — by his own metrics and those of many in the press — has concluded he now “controls”.
That said, Cuellar and Kelly might be in a better position than Biden to make an accurate assessment. Kelly won his seat in a special election in November, and is up for reelection in November 2022. Cuellar, as a member of the House, must run for reelection every two years, and so is up for election in 2022 as well.
Cuellar’s congressional district — Texas 28th — is a border district (it includes Laredo and the border counties of Starr, Zapata, and Webb), and Kelly’s Arizona is, of course, a border state.
Cuellar’s and Kelly’s constituents understand what is going on there, and know if the border is “under control”, or not. The political fortunes of each man — to a significant degree — are tied to Biden’s performance on immigration.
Preliminary estimates of the number of aliens apprehended in April (official numbers have not been released) indicate that CBP encountered just under 6,000 aliens per day last month. That would mean slightly fewer 180,000 migrants. If that is “control”, I would hate to see what chaos looks like.
Finally, I note that releasing unaccompanied children to sponsors is more art than science. Do it too slowly, and advocates will complain. But when you do it too quickly, the consequences are much, much worse. Does the Biden administration now have “control” of that? Only time will tell.