Secretary for Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas refused to use the word "crisis" during a congressional hearing on Wednesday to describe the surge in illegal would-be immigrants through the US border with Mexico.
When asked by Republican Representative John Katko of New York whether it "would be fair" to call the migrant surge at the border a crisis, given the circumstances, Mayorkas refused to use such a term, saying that semantics were unimportant to him.
"I'm not spending any time on the language that we use. I am spending time on operational response to the situation at the border", he said.
Despite this, Mayorkas earlier characterised the number of migrants arriving at the border as "overwhelming" in an email to his department employees, where he also announced the launch of the Volunteer Force to assist Customs and Border Protection officials. He also referred to the "historic and unprecedented challenges at the border" in a written statement for the House.
Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas confronted the DHS chief on his word choice in describing the situation at the border, noting that the message by the administration of "we're not saying don't come, we're just saying don't come now" is "not a message of deterrence".
The lawmaker also pointed out that Mayorkas himself said that the nation is on track to encounter more people at the border than in the past 20 years.
"You may call that only a challenge, but I call that a crisis", he said.
At the same, the DHS chief did use the word "crisis" in his prepared speech when referring to the current climate situation. The latter, according to him, places national security in jeopardy, as "[e]xtreme weather events and other impacts of the climate crisis that threaten lives and livelihoods".
As the influx of refugees emerged at the southern border, Mayorkas said that the administration is taking action to cope with the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children.
Migrant children are arriving at the southern border at rates faster than they can be processed and transferred to sponsor homes and to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, causing a lack of space to accommodate them at the time of processing their personal data. Data from US Customs and Border Protection shows that 9,457 unaccompanied migrant children were apprehended at the southern US border in February, which is a substantial increase from the 5,858 unaccompanied migrant children apprehended in January.
On Wednesday, HHS issued a statement saying it will utilise a convention centre in Dallas, Texas, to hold asylum-seeking migrant children, to hold up to 3,000 migrant children, according to the media.
Republicans have blamed the situation on drastic changes in immigration policy made during Biden's first weeks in office, particularly the reversal of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which required asylum-seeking migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration court proceedings are processed in the United States.
The United States has seen an influx of unaccompanied migrant children apprehended at the US-Mexico border since October.
Meanwhile, the administration has reduced the number of arrest priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while lobbying for an immigration bill that would extend legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.
The White House says that its policies are driven by a desire to treat migrants with dignity.
Biden has consistently criticised the former Trump administration, especially the so-called "zero-tolerance policy" for immigration offences that required prosecution of all illegal entry referrals at the southwest border - including misdemeanours - regardless of whether the migrant adult was with a family unit.