Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the White House was building capacity to address the influx of children at the border and "critically sending an important message that now is not the time to come to the border."
The surge in migrant crossings in recent weeks has offered Republicans an opening to brand President Joe Biden
as naive and soft on illegal immigration. But pressure is also being heaped on him from within his own party from progressives anguished about the detention of hundreds of juvenile border crossers. The controversy is exacerbating tensions in Congress as Democrats move early immigration bills this week -- one providing a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children and another granting legal protections to migrant farmworkers -- that may end up being blocked by Republicans in the 50-50 Senate.
It is also raising the questions of whether border security and the fates of millions of undocumented migrants already in the United States -- issues that defied Republican and Democratic presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan -- can ever be solved given the nation's current polarization and the rich political incentives for them to be exploited for shallow political purposes.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, for instance, told CNN's Manu Raju
on Monday that he doubted a long-awaited comprehensive immigration plan to give 11 million undocumented migrants a path to citizenship had any chance in the current Congress.
The border conflagration is especially timely for the GOP, since immigration is an issue on which lawmakers from both sides of the pro- and anti-Donald Trump
divide in the party can unite. There's nothing like scorched-earth immigration rhetoric to enliven the grassroots base and whip up a furor on conservative cable TV. The foundation of Trump's appeal in 2016 was often racist rhetoric on immigration, though it's less clear that his exaggerations of border crises and immigrant crime helped Republicans in 2018 and 2020.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hit all the immigration buttons during a trip to the border on Monday, seizing the chance to divert attention from Biden's popular $1.9 trillion Covid-19 rescue law and a vaccine drive that has left most Americans happy with the President's handling of the pandemic.
"It's more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak," the California Republican said near the US-Mexico frontier. "This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There's no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis."
McCarthy's empathy for the victims of a complicated humanitarian story might have been genuine. But he was also a loyal supporter of the previous administration, which pursued an inhumane zero-tolerance program that separated children from their parents at the border and is left with hundreds of kids whose parents still can't be traced.
McCarthy also borrowed Trump-style rhetoric Monday, with alarmist talk of immigrants sneaking across the border after traveling from Muslim-majority nations or impoverished non-White populations sometimes linked to terrorism that might stir racial prejudice in the United States. He said he had asked Border Patrol agents who they were catching.
In addition to people from Central America, the answer was, "Yemen, Iran, Sri Lanka. That's what's coming across. ...
They even talked about Chinese as well," McCarthy said, at a time when there is rising concern about anti-Asian violence in the US in the wake of a pandemic that originated in China.
What to call a crisis?