POLITICO Playbook: Biden stares down a mounting crisis on the border

POLITICO Playbook: Biden stares down a mounting crisis on the border

Originally Published in Politico

Rachael Bade, Tara Palmeri, Eugene Daniels and Ryan Lizza - March 15, 2021

With a humanitarian crisis growing — read this CBS story for the latest — progressives are losing their patience over how long it’s taking Biden to undo Trump-era policies and implement a more humane system he campaigned on. Rep. ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.) told Playbook over the weekend she’ll lead a group Monday to press the administration to stop housing migrants in local prison and jail facilities where allegations of misconduct, abuse, rape and medical neglect remain rampant.

Biden is also getting needled by Republicans for proposing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. They say that vow has triggered a recent mass influx of people to the U.S. border seeking asylum. House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY is in El Paso, Texas, today with a dozen of his members to hammer the president over conditions at the border, including children being detained in jail cells for days.

In a nod to concerns among his own party, Biden officials announced Saturday that FEMA would help relocate children living in those conditions to DHS facilities — then try to get them to sponsors or families. That’s a start, perhaps, but won’t mollify either side.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats such as Rep. HENRY CUELLAR (D-Texas) are pushing Biden to warn migrants more forcefully to not come to the U.S. or face consequences. Progressives want the president to move in the other direction and ensure that people fleeing hardship aren’t treated like criminals.

Enter Omar, who immigrated from Somalia as a young girl and still recalls the horrors of detention — including sitting under an unforgiving sun and not knowing when she’d see food or water, or whether she’d be allowed into the U.S. at all.

Omar and several other Democrats will call on the Biden administration in a letter today to bar ICE from contracting with all state, county and local prisons and jails, which constitute more than half of all immigration detention facilities. The group says those contracts incentivize the detention of immigrants and often turn a blind eye to abuse.

“It would be a huge signal to people who have been mortified in the last couple of years under [Donald] Trump’s cruel immigration system, waiting for some relief to come with a candidate who promised that there would be decency,” Omar said.

While Omar applauded some of Biden’s moves on immigration, she said the administration needs to do a lot more — and faster. Kids are still being housed in cages in some places, she said. And while she believes Democrats need to have =MEANWHILE, FOR YOUR RADAR — “House to Test Waters on Immigration Overhaul With Votes on Two Bills,” WSJ: “One would provide a path to citizenship for young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as children … The other would provide a path to citizenship for farmworkers in the country illegally.”

Both of these measures will pass, but the real debate behind the scenes is about Biden’s larger comprehensive overhaul, which is not getting a vote. Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) is trying to up the pressure on moderate Dems to fall in line. WSJ: “The intraparty split over strategy shows a growing concern among progressive Democrats that not acting on the issue could cost them with base voters in the 2022 midterm elections.”

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