Border coalition pushes back against claims of crisis as Cruz, Cornyn prepare visit
A group called No Border Wall Coalition says the migrant resurgence is being exploited for political gain.
AUSTIN — A group organized to oppose then-President Donald Trump's border and immigration policies said Republicans are now seeking to exploit the resurgence of migrants crossing the Rio Grande to score points against the new Biden administration.
"We are not political props. We live here. We thrive here," said Tannya Benavides, a Laredo activist and a member of the No Border Wall Coalition. "We want to provide a better future for ourselves."
Benavides was part of a virtual news conference the organization held Thursday, one day before U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas were to lead a group of their fellow GOP senators to South Texas to call attention to what they say is a growing crisis on the southern border.
The event also came just about an hour before President Joe Biden held his first White House news conference where questions about immigration and border policy dominated much of the discussion.
The president on more than one occasion pointed out that most adult migrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents were being sent back to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. But he said emphatically that the United States would continue to allow unaccompanied minors to remain, at least temporarily, as efforts are made to unite them with family members in the home countries, or in the United States if the family member has legal status in the country.
“We’re not just going to let them starve to death and stand on the other side," Biden said. “No previous administrations did that either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.”
Cruz, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, said Biden made a grave error by reversing or at least softening many of Trump's hardline policies designed to clamp down on illegal immigration.
He called Trump's "remain in Mexico" policy, designed to keep asylum seekers from entering the United States before their cases could be made in court "incredibly successful." But Human Rights Watch, which investigates reports of abuse worldwide, said the Trump administration policy was used "to eviscerate the US asylum system in contradiction of longstanding US and international refugee law and practice."
The migrant resurgence, which the new secretary of Homeland Security said last week could soon reach a 20-year peak, "was created by the Biden administration, by their own policies as soon as Joe Biden was sworn in as president."
The government said there were nearly 5,000 children in Border Patrol custody as of Tuesday and an additional 11,551 at shelters from the Department of Health and Human Services, The Associated Press reported.
Biden also used the news conference to announce that the Army is making 5,000 beds available at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, to help reduce crowding at centers housing migrant children.
Cruz, in his remarks a day earlier, criticized the administration's refusal to allow reporters to tour the migrant facilities. He pointed out that even though Trump was roundly criticized for separating migrant children from their parents, his administration still allowed at least some media access at the detention centers.
Biden was pressed on whether that access would resume. He said it would, but did not say when.
Sylvia Bruni, a South Texas Democratic activist who was part of the coalition's news conference, said she supported Biden's decision to put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of managing issues related to the migrant surge.
Bruni also said she hopes the administration tackles what it is calling a "challenge" but not a crisis with the same focus that was put on rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and passing the pandemic-related $1.9 trillion stimulus package through Congress.
Cruz and Cornyn will be joined by at least 17 other Senate Republicans during their visit Friday to the Rio Grande Valley.
Biden was asked if he has reached out to Republican lawmakers to work on a bipartisan approach to the dealing with the influx of border crossings. He said he has not.
"I know they have to posture for awhile," he said, "to get it out of their system."
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.