The administration expects more apprehensions at the border this year than at any point in the past two decades. Enacting policy to deal with the problems faces deep-rooted political and logistical challenges.
By Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned on Tuesday that the United States expected to make more apprehensions along the southwestern border this year than at any time in the past two decades, underscoring the urgency for the White House to develop solutions for the chronic problems with immigration from Central America.
The grim prediction by Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, came as President Biden was being assailed for his handling of a surge at the border involving thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers from the region — with attacks coming from the right for not being tough enough and from the left for not being humane enough.
The president has pleaded for time and patience, blaming his predecessor for dismantling the immigration system in his zeal to keep foreigners out. But even Mr. Biden’s top advisers acknowledge that after unwinding the harsh policies of President Donald J. Trump’s, there is no easy or quick fix for a problem that has been a recurring crisis.
“We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday as the House prepared to vote this week on several immigration measures and the administration rushed to provide more housing for the young migrants arriving at the border. But, he added, “We will get it done.”
The approach being developed by the administration involves steps that it can take relatively quickly and others that will take longer and require agreement from Congress or cooperation from the governments of Central American nations. And it will have to deal with several categories of people, including the unaccompanied minors who are overwhelming the system now and eventually asylum-seeking families and those trying to slip past border agents.
In the short term — as warmer weather invites even more people to migrate north — Mr. Biden’s administration must find a way to temporarily care for the thousands of migrant children who are arriving at the United States border without a legal guardian.
That includes expanding facilities where the children can be held legally for up to 72 hours in the custody of the Border Patrol. And it means finding more residential places where the migrant children can live for weeks or even months while the government searches for a relative or friend to take care of them while officials decide whether they must return to their home countries.
The Biden administration is struggling to quickly ramp up capacity. But the longer-term challenges are even more daunting.
Mr. Biden’s advisers have said they want to establish systems in Mexico that would provide a way for migrants to file applications to seek refuge to the United States in an orderly, safe manner, without coming to the border. But doing so will take months, and it is not yet clear whether migrants will use them.
For those who do apply for asylum, Mr. Biden’s team has said it will shorten the review process, which currently can take years to reach a final decision. Mr. Mayorkas has said asylum cases should be decided in weeks, one way or the other. But making that happen will require investing money and hiring people to process huge backlogs of cases.
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