The president of the United States, Joe Biden, publicly defended his response to the growing flow of migrants on the southern border of the country with an explanation of the phenomenon, criticism of his predecessor Donald Trump and a message to his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but no,” Biden replied Thursday, in his first press conference since taking office in January, explaining the increase in migrants trying to enter the United States.
The border situation, and in particular the treatment of immigrant minors, is an increasingly sensitive issue for Biden, who is seeking immigration reform and has buried some Trump policies that he considers inhumane.
His Republican opponents argue that these changes caused a “pull effect” of migrants to the United States.
Biden said he is taking steps to ensure that minors are treated appropriately and removed from crowded detention centers on the border, to meet family members.
The president at the same time tried to relativize the phenomenon, noting that the increase in migrants at the border “occurs every year” between January and March.
” The truth is that nothing has changed. So many people came … in the Trump administration,” Biden said, asking if anyone thinks that was happening because Trump “was a good guy and he was doing good things on the border.”
“They come because it is the time when they can travel with the least probability of dying on the road from the desert heat, number one,” he said.
“Number two, they come due to the circumstances in their country,” he added.
“See that change”
The fact that the border situation dominated President Biden’s first press conference is a sign of the relevance that the issue took on, as the United States is still trying to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and a historic economic crisis.
More than 17,000 minors are in government detention centers.
Biden said that the increase in minors at the border during his administration was 28%, against 31% in 2019 before the pandemic.
But official figures indicate that the number of children without parents found at the border in February increased by about 60% in February compared to the previous month.
However, the data suggest that the increase in the flow of migrants in general (without distinguishing by age) is similar to that of the beginning of 2019, in the percentages managed by Biden.
The president also indicated that more than 70% of the minors who cross the border are between 16 and 17 years old.
And he claimed that the “overwhelming majority” of people generally entering the US without papers are being sent back.
However, he maintained that Mexico “refuses” to receive all the return families, an issue that he has addressed with his partner Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“We are in negotiations with the president of Mexico, I think we are going to see that change: everyone should return,” Biden said.
Mexican authorities have attributed the refusals to receive migrant families to the lack of spaces to house them or legal impediments to detain migrant minors.
This same week, Biden sent a delegation to Mexico to address the border situation and asked his vice president, Kamala Harris, to lead his government’s response to the phenomenon.
One of Harris’s challenges will be to effectively direct economic aid to countries in the Central American Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) from where most of the migrants come.
Biden plans to allocate up to US $ 4 billion to attack the “fundamental reasons” for emigration from those countries, such as poverty, violence, or lack of economic opportunities, something that he admitted will not be easy.
The president ruled out apologizing for dismantling Trump’s immigration policies, such as the separation of migrant children from their mothers, which he considered contrary to international law and “human dignity.”
“When an unaccompanied child is at the border, are we going to let him starve and stay on the other side? No previous administration did that except Trump. I won’t,” he said.
Among the avalanche of questions that Biden received on this subject, there was a specific one about whether he will allow the press to openly visit the detention centers, something that has not happened until Thursday.
The president assured that he is committed to “transparency” and said that journalists will have full access to those places, but avoided indicating when.