Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
From a New York Times unlikeable borrow, this is a daily. Today, part two of our look at what we're learning about the Biden presidency. I spoke with my colleague Zone, Kino Yuk's, about Biden's response to the growing number of children showing up at the U.S. Mexico border.
It's Monday, March 8th. So when can you describe what's happening right now at the US Mexico border? What you're seeing right now at the border is unaccompanied children fleeing poverty, persecution, crossing the border alone and going to the ports to surrender to border agents in increasingly large numbers.
And when you say increasingly large numbers, how many people are we talking about?
Well, Michael, just this past January, a Border Patrol agents caught nearly 6000 unaccompanied children crossing the border. That's nearly double compared to the number of crossings that were recorded in January of twenty twenty. So this steady increase of unaccompanied children really is spreading anxiety throughout the government and is providing the Biden administration with its first real challenge at the border and coming only, what, roughly 40 days after he came into office.
So not a lot of time to prepare for this, not a lot of time, but officials within the government would say that they need to respond. Now, these crossings are expected to continue.
Do we know why there's such a meaningful increase in crossings by unaccompanied minors?
So there's been longstanding drivers of migration, poverty, persecution, gang violence. And now you add on top of that what's happened this past year. We had two hurricanes in the fall that cut off food supply and battered the economy. And you add that to the pandemic. That's another factor that has really exacerbated some of the issues that we've discussed. And then finally, I mean, I was actually just at the border and some of the families I spoke to who had recently arrived did say that another reason is the transition to a new administration.
They perceived President Biden, who campaigned on a more compassionate approach to the border than his predecessor, as potentially being more lenient at the border.
So some of the factors behind this are new. Some are older and quite longstanding, but they have combined to create what looks like perhaps a new crisis at the border. That's what government officials are raising a flag about right now, that we could be heading in the same direction that previous administrations also dealt with, going back to twenty fourteen with President Barack Obama and then also have a similar issue with President Donald Trump.
So in order to put what Biden is doing and maybe doing in the future into some context, help me understand those two previous moments at the border, these surges in unaccompanied minors and how Presidents Obama and Trump responded to them.
And let's start with President Obama in twenty fourteen. OK, sure.
So the number of unaccompanied children that were crossing the border in the Obama administration, it caught the administration flatfooted.
A flood of children has become a crisis for the government as it scrambles for solutions.
Eventually, you would see the Obama administration respond, which actually President Biden was the face off.
Joe Biden is in Guatemala today meeting with Central American leaders. He's hoping to get their help in stopping the surge of unaccompanied minors arriving in the US, of trying to invest in Central America, invest around seven hundred and fifty million dollars to get at those root causes. You also saw them create a program in the Central American region where children could apply for protection remotely. However, you also saw an administration that really wanted to show that they could control the border.
Today, the grand opening of a new South Texas immigrant detention facility. And what they did in order to do that was actually expand their detention capacity.
The largest immigration detention center in the country has just opened up a 50 acre facility, just 80 constructed new facilities, turning to tent facilities to house migrants.
The facility will imprison mostly women and children from Central America. And that, combined with really an increase in deportations under the Obama administration, prompted widespread backlash.
So the Obama administration says it was using two strategies that were somewhat at odds in an effort to control the border.
One is to make investments in these countries where people are migrating from to try to stem the problems that triggered the migrations. But the second part of that strategy is harder edged and it involves detention. That's right.
And that's where you saw a lot of that criticism. I mean, by law, children are supposed to be moved out of these Border Patrol facilities within a couple of days. They're supposed to be kept and sanitary and safe environments. And the administration got criticized for holding kids too long and some of those detention facilities.
And was that criticism justified? Yes, I mean, you had migrant children that were being held beyond the seventy two hour mandate that they're supposed to be held, but at the same time you would see even more of a strategy of deterrence and what many would call cruelty in the next administration.
So tell us about how the Trump administration handles a surge of unaccompanied minors at the border under its watch.
Well, look, the administration's approach to the border was centered on deterrence.
Immigration is the fault.
And all of the problems that we're having discouraging families from coming to the border. Right.
The United States will not be a migrant camp. And it will not be a refugee holding facility, won't be the best way that I can summarize his approach is that actually he squeezed the system from both sides.
So on the front end, the Mexican side of the border, the Trump administration actually instituted policies that limited the number of asylum seekers that could go to the ports and ask for protection. So he makes it more difficult for them to get in. But once they are in, once you have an unaccompanied child brought to a border facility and then subsequently brought to a shelter managed by Health and Human Services, he actually made it also more difficult for them to be released on the back end of the system.
In order for an unaccompanied child to be released, you would need a relative to come forward and be their sponsor. But the Trump administration implemented policies that many would say actually discouraged those relatives from coming forward. That includes requiring fingerprints, increased background checks for everyone in that immigrant household. That combined with a general rhetoric around increased deportations and increased fear of deportations. So that's what I mean when I say he squeezed the system from both sides, he made it more difficult for these unaccompanied children to get out of these facilities.
And the result is these children end up stuck.
Whose approach was seen as the most effective in confronting these two surges of unaccompanied minors, Obama's or trumps?
Well, look, there's no question if your measure of success is keeping asylum seekers out of the country, keeping them south of the border, preventing them from crossing into the United States, there's no question that Trump did that. He got to the point where he effectively sealed the border to asylum seekers and he went so far as to actually turn to a new policy. In March of last year, a public health emergency rule rooted in the coronavirus pandemic was introduced.
Now, what this did is it empowered agents and officers along the border to essentially rapidly turn away the legal term is expel migrants who cross the border into the United States. And this included children who cross the border alone. Now, the administration said at the time that this was necessary to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in facilities, but there was a cost for one. Our reporting showed that even children that were from Central America at times weren't expelled to their home country, but were instead expelled to Mexico, sending their families into a scramble to search for them.
They're in Mexico now, and in some places they were forced to be in these squalid areas that were subject to violence and kidnappings from the cartel. So there was certainly a cost to this. At the same time, this rule allowed Trump to achieve one of his goals that he had long wanted, sealing the United States to those seeking protection in the United States.
So this is the tricky situation Biden is walking into as president. This covid rule is in place from Trump, and now he is experiencing a significant surge of unaccompanied minors at the border.
Yes, that's right. And remember when then President elect Biden was campaigning, he did express regret with the way the Obama administration handled certain facets of immigration.
I'm very proud to serve Barack. And as one of the great honors of my life, I thought he was a great president. But even he acknowledges we can't go back to what it was.
He did say there were mistakes that were made.
And so I have a program that is significantly different and builds upon where we left off and tries to undo the damage that Trump has done. Number one. Number two, I campaign from home.
At the same time, he was openly criticizing the Trump administration's approach to the border, and he described it as cruel. He said that he would restore asylum for those families. But you also have the country still facing a pandemic. So where would President Biden's policies at the border land?
We'll be right back. Great journalism applies relentless curiosity in search of the truth, and with every story, there's a need for analysis, context and structure, all tools that help create positive change in the world. SACE shares the same value by turning data into answers using SAS analytics and A.I. organizations, drive progress, make better decisions and improve lives. Because when curiosity and innovative analytics meet, people can do amazing things. Find out more at SAS Dotcom Slash Curiosity.
That's s ask.com curiosity.
What is happening? I'm Sandra E. Garcia, a reporter at the New York Times. And every day every journalist at The New York Times is looking for the answer to that question. So what are we finding? We're finding out the trees are talking to each other. We're finding out a whole lot about vaccines and the international distribution effort.
We're finding out that Frida Kahlo and Winston Churchill work from bed.
So you are doing amazing.
We're finding out about black surfers paddling out to protest. We're finding out what's for dinner in the Arctic. We're finding out how it started and how it's going from our biggest challenges to our quirkiest questions. New York Times journalism helps us navigate this moment, but we can't do this work without our subscribers. If you're already a subscriber, thank you. If you'd like to join us and become a subscriber, you can go to NY Times dot com slash subscribe.
So, Roland, given how Presidents Obama and Trump dealt with unaccompanied minors when this new surge arrives over the past few weeks and Biden faces more or less. A similar challenge, what is his response? So almost immediately coming into office, you see top administration officials saying, look, we are going to approach the border with more compassion, we're going to make good on our campaign pledge of that. At the same time, they are also saying, look, we cannot just flip the switch here.
You have them actually discouraging migrants very publicly in interviews saying do not make this journey north.
That sounds quite contradictory. Be compassionate. But by the way, the border is closed and don't even try to cross it.
Well, let me explain how it's working on the ground. So this pandemic emergency rule that Trump had introduced a year before, the Bush administration is keeping it in place, which allows border agents to rapidly deport migrants who cross the border. But the difference here with the Biden administration is they're actually not going to apply it to children who cross the border. Interesting. They're not doing that now, and that is what they would say. Is there evidence of already a more compassionate, humane approach, the fact that you're not rapidly turning away a child who would cross the southwest border alone?
So the administration is not expelling these children, not forcing them back to their home countries.
So what is it doing with these unaccompanied minors?
So, Michael, as far as the process for the unaccompanied minors? It's actually a similar process that we saw in previous administrations. That child, once they cross the border, they are taken by a border agent to a border facility. They are only supposed to be there for 72 hours. Those facilities were designed for adults, not children. And then from the border facility, they're supposed to be taken to a shelter managed by the Department of Health and Human Services until the government can locate their sponsor.
But here is the issue. Up until last Friday, those shelters managed by Health and Human Services were actually at reduced capacity by almost 40 percent. That's because of the pandemic, right?
You have these shelters reduce the space so that you can spread people out in the midst of the pandemic. So what has happened is it's created this bottleneck. If you don't have enough space in the shelters that are supposed to hold the children, that then means that those children are going to be in the facilities where they're not supposed to be along the border for a longer period of time. And when I talk to officials on the ground, they are raising alarm about this.
And you even saw the Biden administration acknowledge this just this past Friday when they directed those shelters for children to go back to the capacity that they had before the pandemic to create more space. But it really is starting to look like a similar challenge that we saw not only under the Trump administration, but also under the Obama administration.
So to recap, Biden's intent to create a more humane approach to what to do with unaccompanied minors is just bumping up against all kinds of challenges that are making it difficult to not recreate the same problems of Trump and Obama.
And it also risks him now being accused of not making good on his campaign pledge of this more compassionate and humane approach to the border.
We are dedicated to achieving and quite frankly, are working around the clock to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane and safe immigration process.
Just earlier this week, we kind of heard it from one of his top administration officials.
It is hard and it will take time. The Homeland Security secretary said we need individuals to wait.
And I will say that they will wait with a goal in mind.
We're not saying don't come. We're saying don't come now.
And that is our ability to rebuild as quickly as possible a system so that they don't have to take the dangerous journey and we can enable them to access humanitarian relief from their countries of origin.
And he said that they need time to unwind some of the restrictions in place at the border. They need time to build up the kind of shelters that we've described that would house children that cross the border alone. So for them, it's trying to work quickly to address what has really become one of their early, immediate challenges of this administration and one that involves actual lives at the border.
So on Friday, we talked to our colleague, David Sanger, one of your fellow White House reporters, about a different case study into how President Biden is governing in these early days. And it involved difficult decision making around Saudi Arabia and its crown prince. And the way Biden responded, there is somewhat at odds with the way he talked during the campaign.
The subject of immigration seems different. It seems like Biden is in many ways doing what he said he would do.
And yet he's finding it's still very, very complicated to try to keep his word.
So in your mind, what are we learning about Biden from his approach to this increase of unaccompanied minors at the border?
So what I think we're learning about President Biden and really his administration is that, yes, he made these ambitious promises during his campaign. He said he was going to be committed to restoring a process for these asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. And you're seeing him go forward with it despite criticism from those some on the left who said he's moving too slow, despite the criticism from those on the right who say that he shouldn't be processing any asylum seekers into the United States in the middle of a pandemic.
But what we know here is that regardless of how ambitious his goals are, Michael, is that he has before him a really difficult logistical challenge here in order to make good on this crucial piece of his immigration agenda. He is going to need to build up capacity at the border. The clock is ticking for him right now.
So will he be able to unwind his predecessor's immigration restrictions while building a system that can process these migrants at a quick enough pace? That's really the question going forward. I guess perhaps my question was flawed. It feels like what we're learning is the depth of the complexity of this problem rather than exactly how Joe Biden is going to be responding to it. That may take longer to understand. Absolutely. Look, if you're President Biden, it is not very hard to criticize the Trump administration's approach to the border.
It is very hard to actually approach this challenge yourself and create a system where you can actually process these migrants at a fast enough rate.
Zain, thank you very much, we appreciate it. Thank you. On Friday afternoon, former President Trump criticized the Biden administration for its handling of the situation at the border, calling it, quote, totally out of control. That prompted a swift response from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
I'm talking about President Trump. Yes. We don't take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane but ineffective over the last four years. We're going to chart our own path forward. And that includes treating children with humanity and respect and ensuring they're safe when they cross our borders.
We'll be right back. The Daily is supported by Burrow, the furniture company designing smarter, simpler things for modern life at home. They're a new kind of furniture company, one rooted in research and plain old common sense with a single goal to rid furniture shopping of all the frustration surrounding it. That means replacing distant warehouses with an easy to use website, including fast free shipping on every order and creating furniture that just makes sense from the modular design to the durable materials.
The daily listeners can take 75 dollars off today at Brokamp The Daily. Here's what else you need to know today, Mr Sasse says no, Mr Schumer, Mr Schumer, I have no senator wishes to change the vote. If not, the yeas are 50. The days of 49 bill is passed over the weekend.
The U.S. Senate past President Biden's one point nine dollars trillion dollar stimulus package, the largest anti-poverty effort in a generation, and a sweeping attempt to stabilize the economy a year into the pandemic. The package includes direct one time payments of up to fourteen hundred dollars for hundreds of millions of Americans, jobless aid of 300 dollars a week through the summer, and funding for vaccine distribution and school reopenings.
Despite polls showing widespread bipartisan support for the package, not a single Republican senator supported it.
Good afternoon. Good day to day.
In a speech from the White House, Biden said that the bill would bring desperately needed help to the country.
You know, when we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people help was on the way.
Today, I can say we've taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise that help is on the way.
The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass it tomorrow.
And on Sunday night, the head of the New York State Senate called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign over the growing number of former aides who have accused him of sexual harassment.
The Times reports that the demand from a fellow Democrat, Andrea Stewart Cousins, could be a potential turning point for Cuomo. So far, five women have accused Cuomo of inappropriate conduct or comments. Cuomo has insisted that he will not resign, saying he was elected by the people of New York, not the state's politicians. Today's episode was produced by Alix Spiegel as the author Vedi, Luke Vanderpool and Eric Krupski. It was edited by Lisa Chow and engineered by Daniel Powell.
That's it for The Daily, I'm Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow. Great journalism applies relentless curiosity in search of the truth, and with every story, there's a need for analysis, context and structure, all tools that help create positive change in the world. SACE shares the same value by turning data into answers using SAS analytics and A.I. organizations, drive progress, make better decisions and improve lives. Because when curiosity and innovative analytics meet, people can do amazing things.
Find out more at SAS dot com slash curiosity. That's as Ask.com slash curiosity.