Biden vows action on migrants as he defends border policy

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. will take steps to more quickly move hundreds of migrant children and teens out of cramped detention facilities along the Southwest border, President Joe Biden said. He was pushing back against suggestions that his administration's policies are responsible for the rising number of people seeking to enter the country.

Pressed repeatedly on the border issue at his first news conference since taking office, Biden said Thursday his administration was taking steps to address the situation with measures such as setting aside space at a Texas Army base for about 5,000 unaccompanied minors. But he mostly fired back at criticism.

He noted that his administration, as was done under President Donald Trump, is continuing to quickly expel most adults and families under a public health order imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The crucial difference is that the government is allowing teens and children, at least temporarily, to stay in the country, straining government resources during the pandemic.

“The only people we’re not going to let be left sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help are children,” he said.

The situation along the U.S.-Mexico border has become an early challenge for the administration, drawing more questions than any other subject at the maiden news conference, and diverting attention as the administration addresses the pandemic and the economy.

The number of migrants attempting to cross the border is at the highest level since a spring 2019 surge under Trump, according to the most recently released statistics. The numbers appear to be rising and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently warned they are on pace to hit a 20-year peak.

Biden sought to portray it as a seasonal spike and not, as critics have said, a result of moves such as his decisions to halt construction of border wall projects started under Trump or support for broad immigration legislation.

“It happens every year,” he said. “Does anybody suggest that there was a 31% increase under Trump because he was a nice guy and he was doing good things at the border? That’s not the reason they’re coming.”