As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, that “now” was key: The administration was still indicating its openness to migrants, just not at the moment.
In an interview with “Good Morning America” taped that same day, however, President Biden himself offered more restrictive advice.
“Don’t come over,” Biden said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. “Don’t leave your town or city or community.” He went on to reject the idea that migrants were coming to the country “because they know I’m a nice guy” who would welcome them with open arms.
In recent weeks, migration at the country’s southern border has received more scrutiny, a function both of increased arrivals and of increased attention from conservative media. (Fox News spent more time talking about the border last week than it had at any point since the peak of migration in early 2019.) It’s worth considering, therefore, what the current surge actually looks like.
Any attempt to do so suffers from the necessary restriction that data on migration, usually measured in the number of people apprehended trying to cross the border, lags reality. Customs and Border Protection releases monthly data, meaning that the numbers involving the current situation — that is, what’s happening in March — won’t be released until April. The most recent data we have are for February, a month in which about 97,000 people were apprehended at the border.
Much of the focus of the surge — and it is a surge, up 222 percent year-over-year — has been on children who have arrived at the border. In part, this is a function of attempts to equate the administration’s housing of migrant children to the children separated from their parents during the Trump administration. On the surface, that focus is belied by the increase that drove much of the surge in February and in the prior four months: the number of individual adults who were coming to the border.
You can see that increase (the purple bars) below. Contrast that with the surge in 2019, which was centered on what the government calls “family units” — an adult (or adults) who arrives at the border with their child (or children). There was an increase in family units in February, as well, but 7 in 10 arrivals were single adults.
(The two noticeable drops in that graph correspond, first, to the 2016 election of Donald Trump, which led to a drop in migration. The second, last year, marks border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
We can show the changes more effectively if we break them out. The number of single adults arriving is higher than at any point in the past eight years. The number of family unit members apprehended at the border is higher than at any point since that 2019 surge. The number of unaccompanied minors (those under 18 who arrive by themselves) is far lower, but still not much lower than it was at the peak of migration among minors at the heart of the 2014 immigration crisis.
That’s another main reason for the focus on children: If you assume that as much as one-half of the family unit arrivals are children, the number of children who arrived in February was about 19,000 — the eighth-highest month since the beginning of fiscal 2013 using that metric.
At the White House daily press briefing on Wednesday, a reporter asked how much longer the current rate of child arrivals, estimated at 565 children a day (which is about 17,000 a month), was sustainable. The challenge for the government is that children must legally be treated differently than adult migrants, including a mandate that they not be detained for extended periods. Meeting the necessary standards for children is much more resource-intensive, and an increase in children arriving at the border puts more strain on the system than an increase in an equivalent number of adults.
It’s worth noting that the current surge is nearing the levels regularly seen during seasonal peaks before 2008. Two things changed in that period that drove apprehensions lower: the global recession and the implementation of a border-wall expansion passed in 2006.
Speaking to Stephanopoulos, Biden pointed out that there had been surges before he took office, an apparent effort to downplay the idea that his presidency was motivating migrants. That is true. It is also true that migration tends to peak in early spring before the weather gets too hot near the border, meaning that the surge may soon fade. (In 2019, the surge peaked in May.)
It is nonetheless also true that the government is struggling to handle the surge that is underway. Biden’s team has pointed the finger at the Trump administration, saying it did not build the necessary capacity and chose to deport children instead of dealing with them. But that, in itself, is not a solution to the problem.
Ergo Biden’s call for people to stop coming.