WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is dispatching top officials to Mexico and Central America as the crisis on the southern U.S. border persists with a surge of asylum-seeking migrants who are fleeing their countries.
The crisis at the border has created a difficult situation for Biden, who is caught between his promises to progressives to establish a more humane immigration system and pressure from conservatives to send a tougher message to deter migrants from traveling to the U.S. to seek asylum. The influx has overwhelmed border facilities and driven the national conversation on immigration.
Roberta Jacobson, the National Security Council official overseeing border issues, was to travel to Mexico on Monday to jointly "develop an effective and humane plan of action to manage migration," NSC spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement Monday.
In addition, Juan Gonzalez, the White House's senior director for the Western Hemisphere, plans to travel to Guatemala to discuss the "root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region," Horne said.
She said Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department's envoy for the Northern Triangle region of Central America, will also be part of the efforts.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the State Department has run more than 17,000 radio ads across Latin American and more than 500 ads on social media telling migrants to stay in their home countries. Psaki declined again to characterize the situation as a crisis.
"Children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence or fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis," Psaki said Monday. "We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated and put into conditions that are safe."
Meanwhile, a pair of senators who represent border states — John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. — wrote a letter Monday encouraging Biden to step up his efforts.
"Your administration should take immediate action in two areas: ensuring there are sufficient resources and facilities at the border to manage the crisis and taking concrete steps to improve the asylum process. Both of these are critical to improving how our nation manages this situation," Cornyn and Sinema wrote.
They called on Biden to use his "full authorities" to mitigate the situation and develop "strategies to improve and streamline the asylum process" as facilities are overwhelmed by the influx.
Separately, some top Democrats have urged addressing the border situation in a broader immigration bill.
The border crisis has complicated an early legislative push by Biden to remake the system.
The Biden White House has made it clear that its goal is to address the root causes of the migration — to improve conditions in Central America and overhaul the asylum application process to discourage migrants from taking chances on trips to the border to make their cases.
The administration has blamed the situation in part on former President Donald Trump's moves to dismantle parts of the asylum system, saying they left the administration ill-equipped to process the migrants in a way that is both lawful and humane.
Over the weekend, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on Sunday talk shows to urge people not to come to the border.
"We are operating on parallel tracks. We are safely processing the children who do come to our border. We strongly urge, and the message is clear, not to do so now," Mayorkas said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I cannot overstate the perils of the journey that they take."
Reporters have not been allowed into the facilities to see the conditions. Psaki said she hopes to have an update on reporters' access "in the coming days" after ensuring that privacy and Covid-19 procedures are followed. The administration declined to release any of its own images of the facilities.
Biden said Sunday that he would be traveling to the border. Psaki declined to say whether or when that trip would take place.