PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans overseeing their party's efforts to elect senators and governors trekked to the Arizona-Mexico border Friday and laid blame for a surge in migrants at the feet of President Joe Biden as the GOP looks to weaponize the influx against Democrats.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Florida Sen. Rick Scott said Biden's decision to relax some of President Donald Trump's immigration policies has been a magnet for migrants looking to come to the U.S. Illegal border crossings are way up in recent months, a surge that began during Trump's presidency.
“The system is broken,” Ducey told reporters after flying over the border region near Douglas, Arizona. “Joe Biden has broken our border.”
Ducey demanded that Biden “state clearly that our borders are not open and our amnesty law has not changed," asked for better COVID-19 testing of detained immigrants and called for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to visit the border. Mayorkas announced plans hours earlier to visit a migrant processing center in El Paso, Texas.
Biden, in an interview this week with ABC News, said his message to migrants was: “Don’t leave your town or city or community.” Aides repeatedly note that most people encountered by the Border Patrol are quickly expelled from the U.S. under pandemic-related powers that deny an opportunity to seek asylum.
“We are working to repair what has been an unprepared and dismantled system,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday when asked about new migrant camps in Mexico. “It’s going to take some time. Our policy is that we’re obviously going to continue to make sure we’re working through our laws and the border is not open.”
While the number of migrants caught trying to cross the border from Mexico has been rising since April, the 100,441 encountered last month was the highest figure since March 2019. Mayorkas has said the number is tracking toward a 20-year high.
Many of the recent arrivals are families and children traveling alone, who enjoy more legal protections and require greater care.
Biden jettisoned several Trump immigration policies, including one requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting proceedings in U.S. immigration courts. He has kept in place Trump’s pandemic-related expulsion policy but exempted children traveling alone.
Officials in border communities fear they will see an influx of asylum seekers released from custody and overwhelm local nonprofits, as happened during the 2019 immigration spike. The latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding included $110 million for governments and nonprofits providing humanitarian assistance at the southern border.
Republicans have seized on the border surge, hoping Trump's signature campaign issue can help them unite the party ahead of next year's elections, when control of Congress is at stake.
Scott leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which the arm of the GOP charged with picking up Senate seats, and Ducey heads the Republican Governors Association, which works to elect GOP governors.
“You have to be furious as an American citizen to watch what Joe Biden has done,” Scott said.