President Joe Biden blamed former President Donald Trump for his administration’s early struggles to manage the surge in illegal immigration at the southern border and its inability to reunite migrant children separated from their families.
The Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate during the incoming team’s post-election transition period and its failure to prepare for the “seasonal” spike in illegal border crossings are to blame for the situation, Biden said.
“The two departments that didn’t give us access to virtually anything were the immigration and the Defense Department,” Biden told NBC in an interview taped Thursday, the 100th day of his term. The interview aired Friday morning.
It is unclear whether Biden meant the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Health and Human Services. Both are responsible for migrant children at different points of the process, from apprehension to release to a parent or guardian or otherwise.
The delay meant Biden’s aides did not know how “considerably” understaffed the federal agencies were, according to Biden.
“They didn’t have beds,” he said. “They didn’t plan for the overflow.”
For his part, Trump, since leaving office, has charged Biden with favoring “open borders” and called for the 46th president to put back in place a number of strict immigration policies he jettisoned upon taking office in January. Republican lawmakers have echoed Trump, including on several trips to the border that have included visits to detention centers housing migrant children. They pin the blame squarely on Biden.
In the NBC sit-down, Biden pushed back on GOP claims that he has not reunited a single migrant child with his or her family.
“I don’t think that’s true. That could be,” he said. “The thing is, we don’t know yet where those kids are. We’re trying like hell to figure out what happened. It’s almost like being a sleuth.”
Biden declined to call the situation at the border a “crisis,” despite earlier this month describing it as just that. He did call the situation “one god-awful mess at the border” that was “getting urgent action now.”
“We’re gonna increase the numbers. The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people, and we couldn’t do two things at once. And now we’re going to increase the numbers,” Biden told reporters earlier this month.
Roughly 170,000 migrants were apprehended at the border in March, a 20-year record. The federal government was estimated to have 22,000 unaccompanied migrant children in its custody at the start of this month.