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More children at Border than expected: The White House

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington on April 19, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US-Mexico border was higher than the Biden administration had expected.

Psaki made the remarks at a briefing at which she was asked to clarify the administration’s position on maintaining a President Trump-era refugee cap of 15,000 admissions until May 15 and then raising it to an as yet undetermined level.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of raising the refugee admission limit, set by former President Donald Trump at 15,000, to 62,500 by the end of this fiscal year, which ends on September 30. Then, in a directive issued on April 16, Biden chose to keep the Trump administration roof in place, saying the move was "justified by serious humanitarian concerns and in the national interest."

“In the announcement, we made on Friday, we were clear in the emergency presidential determination that if 15,000 is reached, a subsequent presidential determination would be issued to increase admissions as appropriate. And that is certainly our expectation,” Psaki said.

Psaki noted that by the end of the next fiscal year, which runs from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021, Biden had set a limit on the number of refugees of 125,000, described by the press secretary as "calling it “aspirations increase of 10 times what the Trump administration would have allowed."

Explaining the administration's rationale for announcing the extension of the Trump-era borders, Psaki said, several things have happened.

Another factor, Psaki said, is that the State Department and Office of Refugee Resettlement Office's refugee processing systems are "being emptied in terms of employment, staffing, and financial and financial needs" under the Trump administration.

“One, as you alluded to, there was an increase of unaccompanied children at the border. Our policy was always going to be to welcome those children in, find a place where they can be sheltered and treated humanely and safely. That increase and that influx, as you all know, was higher than most people, including us, anticipated,” Psaki said.

While Biden's April 16 directive was not silent about the influx of illegal immigrants, with total arrests in March rising to 172,000, Biden acknowledged the problem on April 17 when asked after playing golf in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden's use of the word "crisis" was a rare admission of the seriousness of the hike on borders. Republicans have long insisted on describing the influx of illegal immigrants as a crisis in their criticism of the Biden administration's decision to reverse some of the border policies under Trump - a move that they and some experts say is driving border increases. The White House avoided using the term in its communications, choosing instead to call it "a challenge," while blaming former President Donald Trump's policies for leaving the refugee admission program “decimated.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki also sought to clarify the administration’s position after Biden used the term "crisis", insisting that the situation along the southern border was not a "crisis."

20 April 2021

Mary Hill

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