Donald Trump has weighed in on a growing issue facing his successor, making bizarre claims about migrants streaming into the country "from everywhere" including war-torn Yemen and the Middle East.
The US is facing a growing crisis on its southern border, as a surge of migrants has put the Biden administration on the defensive.
The head of Homeland Security acknowledged the depth of the problem on Tuesday but insists it’s under control, saying he won’t revive a Trump-era practice of immediately expelling teens and children who entered the country.
Speaking on Fox News, Trump launched into a tirade about what he earlier called "the destruction" of America as crowds amass at the border.
"They're coming in from all foreign countries, I see they're coming in from Yemen, they're coming in from the Middle East, they're coming in from everywhere," he said.
"They're dropping them off and they're pouring into our country."
The migrants are coming from Mexico and central American nations, with families typically fleeing poverty and gang violence. But Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, made remarks this week claiming some were on "the terrorist watch list" from "Yemen, Iran, and Turkey".
Arizona representative Ruben Gallego, who is the chair of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations said such claims by Republicans were a "far cry" from reality.
Border officials 'working around the clock'
The number of migrants being stopped at the US-Mexico border has been rising steadily since last April, and the administration is still rapidly expelling most single adults and families under a public health order issued by former president Trump at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
However Biden is allowing independent teens and children to stay, at least temporarily, and they have been coming in ever larger numbers.
More than 4,000 migrant children were being held by the Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The agency took in an additional 561 on Monday, twice the recent average.
Children and teens crossing by themselves rose 60 per cent from this January to more than 9,400 in February, according to the most recent statistics released publicly by US Customs and Border Protection.
"The situation at the southwest border is difficult,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas conceded on Tuesday in his most extensive remarks on the subject to date.
“We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so."
Despite the growing backlash from right-wing media, Trump and other Republicans, he rejected a Trump-era policy of sending underage immigrants immediately back to Mexico or other countries.
“They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them,” he said.
Viral photo puts pressure on Biden
Although there have been previous migrant surges, including under Trump, Republicans in Congress say Biden's softer stance on border controls has become a magnet for migrants.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Senator Jim Inhofe held up a photo of a small crowd of demonstrators in Tijuana, Mexico, wearing matching T-shirts with the words “Biden, Please Let us in” that circulated widely on social media in recent days.
“They’re all coming across the border, they’re coming fast, and they’re wearing Biden T-shirts,” he said.
McCarthy led a delegation of a dozen Republican lawmakers on Monday (local time) to the border in Texas and blamed the Biden administration for the migrant surge.
"The sad part about all of this is it didn’t have to happen. This crisis was created by the presidential policies of this new administration," he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org