Roberta Jacobson, formerly ambassador to Mexico and current immigration adviser to President Biden, will lead a U.S. delegation meeting Mexican government officials there as the number of migrants crossing illegally continues to surge.
It is a boots-on-the-ground moment as the administration struggles to contain the largest border influx in two decades. The White House, meanwhile, insists the situation is not a “crisis.” Whatever it’s called, the arrival of some 10,000 unaccompanied minors on the southern border has attracted the administration’s attention.
Biden aides have argued that the administration needs time to rebuild the immigration system that Donald Trump wrecked. While that process plays out, a senior official stressed that “no one, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion.”
“The border is not open,” the official reiterated.
But the new administration has struggled to get a hold of the situation, and its rhetoric hasn’t helped. Speaking from behind the White House podium earlier this month, Jacobson declared, "La frontera no está cerrada.” An aide quickly scribbled a note and slipped it to her in front of reporters. Her Spanish was wrong: She had just said that “the border is not closed.”
Jacobson quickly corrected herself, clarifying again in Spanish, "La frontera está cerrada.” Translation: “The border is closed.”
Such mistakes have come to symbolize the government’s failure to stem the surge, which threatens to eclipse the president’s recent successes. While Biden would much rather focus the public’s attention on the $1.9 trillion stimulus that he signed into law and the millions of COVID-19 vaccines his administration is delivering, the border chaos continues to dog the new president.
Asked Sunday night whether he will travel there to see the situation for himself, as several Texas Democrats have urged him to do, Biden told reporters, “At some point, I will.” A week earlier, White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki explained that a trip isn’t in the president’s immediate future.
“Because his focus is on action and taking actions and moving forward policies to ensure we are expediting the processing at the border, that we are opening more facilities, that we are putting in place policies that will move kids more quickly through the Border Patrol facilities, more quickly into safe and secure homes,” Psaki said. “That’s where his focus is.”
Biden moved quickly to remove Trump’s fingerprints from immigration policy beginning on Day One, suspending construction of the border wall, proposing a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, and ordering a 100-day moratorium on deportations.
The White House has rejected attacks by Republicans that Biden has encouraged migrants with his rhetoric, and on Monday Psaki told reporters that the administration is working hard to tell would-be border crossers that now is not the time to come. According to the press secretary, the State Department has cut over 17,000 radio ads, placed nearly 600 ads on social media, and even printed a comic book to send that message in Central and South America.
The problem did not start with the new president, a senior administration official said, echoing a line that the White House has repeatedly shared. “Cycles of migration don't start at the U.S. border,” the official told reporters. “We've been focused in the roughly 65 days since taking office on addressing the root causes of migration, including corruption, violence, and economic devastation exacerbated by climate change.”
After meeting with Mexican officials, Jacobson will return to Washington while an envoy will then depart for Guatemala. Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez will meet with the president of that country, according to the White House, “to address root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region.”
A senior administration official said that “only by improving governance and providing a foundation for investment and economic opportunity … can we break the cycle of desperation and provide hope for families, who clearly would prefer to stay in their countries and provide a better future for their children.”