Fact-Checking Claims on the Migrant Surge at the U.S.-Mexico Border

As migrants arrive at the southwestern border in increasing numbers, lawmakers and officials are misleading about border policies, migrants, the coronavirus and immigration flows.

By Linda Qiu

With the number of migrants apprehended at the southwestern border expected to reach a two-decade high, Republicans are blaming President Biden for the surge, while Democrats argue that immigration system he inherited left him ill-prepared.

Here’s a fact-check.

Biden officials have inaccurately described the Trump administration’s actions.

What Was Said

“The previous administration was expelling these unaccompanied children, some who are girls under the age of 12, for example, back to Mexico. We ended that practice.”
— Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland secretary, in a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

This is misleading. The practice of expelling unaccompanied children ended thanks to a court ruling before Mr. Biden took office, though his administration declined to resume expulsions when an appeals court decided it could do so.

Citing the threat of the coronavirus and using a public health emergency law known as Title 42, the Trump administration announced last March that it would send back to their home countries people who illegally crossed the southwestern border, rather than detaining and processing them.

In mid-November, a federal judge ruled that the administration could not expel unaccompanied children. As a result, expulsions of unaccompanied children fell from nearly 3,200 in October to 1,520 in November to just three in December and 18 in January.

An appeals court stayed that ruling in late January, once again allowing the expulsion of children, but the Biden administration has decided against the practice. It continues to send back adults and families, however.

“Unaccompanied children haven’t been expelled since November,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, which advocates on behalf of immigrants. “They chose to keep the status quo place.”

What Was Said

“We inherited a government that had allowed the number of beds to safely and humanely house these children — administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement — had allowed it to shrink to a record low number.”
— Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, in an interview this month on MSNBC.

False. The Biden administration is struggling to find space for migrant children and teenagers who have recently arrived at the border, with some sleeping on gym mats with foil sheets in processing facilities as they wait to be transferred to shelters contracted with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. But Mr. Klain is wrong that the backlog is because the previous administration drastically downsized monthly bed capacity.

When the Obama administration faced its own surge of migrant children, the refugee agency increased its monthly bed capacity to about 8,000 beds in the 2015 fiscal year from about 2,000 in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a Government Accountability Office report. Under the Trump administration, monthly bed capacity fell to about 7,000 in October 2017, but grew to over 16,000 by December 2018. By Mr. Trump’s last full month in office, in December 2020, monthly bed capacity was at 13,000 — hardly a “record low.”

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