15:57 GMT16 April 2021
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    Amid the tremendous surge in unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border, where thousands of children are being held in overcrowded government facilities, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have slammed the administration of President Joe Biden for its handling of what some call a "crisis" at the border.

    An official from President Joe Biden’s administration had requested that some photos taken by Republican senators during a visit to a US border facility overwhelmed by migrant children on Friday be deleted, reported Fox News, citing Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

    In remarks originally cited by the Washington Examiner, the senator had said:

    "There was one of Biden's representatives. I felt sorry for the lady because she actually talked to me about deleting a picture, but by the time she got to me, all those other pictures were taken, and that shows you the hypocrisy."

    Braun had been describing a visit to a migrant processing and holding centre in Donna, Texas – one of those that have been struggling with a recent surge in arrivals on the US-Mexico border.

    ​Adding that Border Patrol had similarly requested that no photos be taken because “they had to" say this, Braun insisted:

    "None of us would have gone down there if we were going to be muzzled."

    ‘Migrants Jammed into Pods’

    Braun and 18 other Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had travelled to the Donna, Texas, holding centre which is at 700 percent capacity amid a surge in migrants.

    The disturbing images showed children sleeping on the ground in an enclosed area.

    ​Braun also described the jeers he witnessed border officials subjected to by smugglers known as ‘coyotes’ at the edge of the Rio Grande Valley - the busiest migrant gateway - where illegal crossing attempts are often made.

    "All of a sudden to hear from the other side of the river taunting from the smugglers and coyotes, most of it in Spanish, telling the border guards that whatever you do, we're coming… That kind of hit home in such an anecdotal way because it is one story that kind of is a metaphor for what's happening all up and down the border," the Indiana Republican was quoted as saying.

    "I know why President Biden doesn't want the media to be here - because we do have an open border," Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma was cited as saying after visiting the facility.

    "If you were an unaccompanied minor, you were sent over to the Donna facility, which we went over and visited. That facility is designed for 80 people in a pod, and they had 709 people... literally wall to wall in every one of the little plexiglass cells that they have, and people flooding out into the hallway," Lankford said.

    ‘Dangerous Crisis’

    After his visit to the southern border, Sen. Mike Braun penned a letter to President Biden on Saturday to urge him to observe the "inhumane" and "dangerous" migrant crisis for what it is, and travel to the border to obtain firsthand information.

    The letter, obtained first by Fox News, reportedly included pictures Braun had taken on Friday during his visit to the US Customs and Border Protection facility in Texas.

    Migrants are seen before crossing the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 22, 2021
    © REUTERS / JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ
    Migrants are seen before crossing the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 22, 2021

    The images revealed migrants crowded into pods at the processing facility, with children lying sleeping on the floor.

    By law, minors are not supposed to stay longer than 72 hours at processing facilities, after which they are transferred to special HHS shelters. However, the current migrant surge has left processing centres struggling to deal with the influx.

    "The crisis surrounding this surge makes it a moral imperative for you to see firsthand what is happening—and not the sanitised version of the border tour taken by some of my congressional colleagues. Having personally gone this week, I can testify to this being an inhumane, unsustainable and dangerous situation,” Braun wrote.

    Braun emphasised that an insecure border was more than a ‘humanitarian crisis’, but also a ‘dire national security threat’.

    President Biden had said previously he would visit the border "at some point", with no formal announcement made regarding when that might be.

    Biden Rolls Back Trump-era Policies

    Amid the tremendous surge in migrant families, unaccompanied minors and single adults arriving at the US-Mexico border, Border Patrol stations have been overwhelmed.

    There were more than 18,000 unaccompanied minors in either Border Protection or Health and Human Services custody as of 25 March, according to Homeland Security records.

    In February, federal agents registered 100,441 migrants at the Southwest border - nearly three times the total of February 2020, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

    Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump implemented a plethora of “zero-tolerance” hard line immigration policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico”. The latter required migrants to wait for US immigration hearings in Mexico.

    Under the Trump administration, almost every migrant arriving at the US-Mexico border was turned away, including children.

    However, having campaigned on a vow to undo much of Trump’s immigration policy legacy, Joe Biden has begun admitting migrant children into the country, while expelling most families and single adults.

    Previously, the policy was condemned by Kamala Harris under the Trump administration. Currently Vice President, Harris was one of 10 senators who penned a letter to then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to denounce the approach, implemented amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to turn away migrants.

    “A public health crisis does not give the Executive Branch a free pass to violate constitutional rights, nor does it give the Executive Branch permission to operate outside of the law”, the letter said.

    Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday the Biden administration was using the policy as “intended”.

    “We are using it as a Title 42 authority was intended, and not as a bludgeoning tool under immigration law that the prior president used,” Mayorkas said.

    On Wednesday, Biden announced that Kamala Harris would now spearhead the administration's efforts to stem migration flows.

    The Vice President also does not have a trip planned to the border in the near term, her spokesperson told reporters on Friday.

    As the increased number of children being accepted into the US has led to overcrowding in short-term facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, during his first press conference as president, Joe Biden refused to apologise for rolling back Trump-era immigration protocols, such as the "Remain in Mexico" policy.

    "I make no apologies for ending programmes that did not exist before Trump became president that have an incredibly negative impact on the law -- international law - as well as on human dignity. And so I make no apologies for that," said Biden.

    While migrants are reportedly fleeing deteriorating conditions in Central America in the wake of two hurricanes last year, pandemic fallout, local violence and corruption, critics of the Biden administration point to reversals in immigration policies acting as a draw for the arrivals.

    Related:

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    Video: GOP Senators Encountered 'Cartel Members', 'Traffickers' on US Border Amid Migrant Crisis
    GOP Senators Say No Immigration Reform on Table Until Border 'Crisis' Resolved
    Tags:
    US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Border Patrol, Border Patrol, Texas, Mike Braun, Ted Cruz, Migrant, migrants, migrants, immigrant children, Mexican border, Mexican border, US border, Joe Biden
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