SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — While COVID-19 has dominated much of President Biden's first days in office, a string of recent incidents along the border are putting immigration in the spotlight.
Over the past few months, we've seen children dropped over the wall by smugglers, such as in Imperial Beach last month, and in March, a crash in Imperial County killed 13 migrants who had been brought through a hole in the wall.
Then just this past weekend, three more migrants died after the smuggling boat they were on crashed on the rocks near Point Loma.
And in the months since President Joe Biden took office, there has been a flurry of executive orders and proposed changes surrounding immigration — some met with excitement and others with push back and confusion.
Last month, the administration abruptly reversed course when it announced Biden would keep this year’s cap at 15,000. The move faced immediate blowback from refugee groups and democratic lawmakers.
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In an interview with ABC 10News, White House Deputy Communications Director Pili Tobar said the intention was for there to be a two-step process. The first step was to change the designation for certain countries that under the Trump administration were not allowed to enter.
"Where we should have foreseen things a little bit better was in the fact that look, we said, we'll start with 15,000. When that's met, then we'll look at what that picture is. We didn't send the right message by not doing this full roll out at the same time and I think for the president after seeing that and after hearing from advocates and from folks really from around the country, we realized that it was important for us to send the right message to the world, which is America is welcoming of refugees and that we are going to set the cap at 62,500," said Pili Tobar, White House deputy communications director.
Tobar said they also fully intend on setting the cap for year number two at 125,000 which is the first full fiscal year for the President.
She says the president made it clear that he wants an immigration bill on his desk. But recent reports out of D.C. suggest that may be a hard task to get done with bi-partisan support.
“We would rather see, obviously bipartisan conversations and bipartisan solutions to this challenge but at the end of the day what we want is a bill,” Tobar said. “He’s laid out what that bill looks like and it includes yes a path to citizenship for folks who are undocumented in the country. It includes root causes of migration which as we’ve very well seen need to be addressed and we need to work within the region to do this. Also, making sure that we’re giving technology and making updates at the border so that our folks at the ports of entry and along the southern and northern border have the resources that they need to carry on their job.”
In recent months, the country's seen a surge in unaccompanied minors at the border. This week, administration officials said they have seen an 84 percent decrease in migrant children being held in CBP custody.
"The moment they cross the border and come into our custody we are responsible for them and so yes, they've gone through processing at CBP. We've increased capacity and opened many more shelters through HHS and the Office of Refugee resettlement," Tobar said.
Currently, the federal government is also temporarily housing some migrant children at the San Diego Convention Center.
"We are working through, finding them vetted sponsors or finding their family members. A lot of them have whether it's parents or siblings or aunts or uncles in the United States or family, friends and these are the people who they were coming to try and find. We are trying to reunify them with these folks while they fight their case. They still need to go through the process of needing to prove the need for asylum," said Tobar.