A number of White House reporters pressed White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the border crisis in the days before a Trump-era immigration policy was expected to be terminated.
Title 42, the Trump-era policy allowing for the expulsion of certain illegal migrants to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, was set to expire Wednesday upon a November court order ruling it violated migrants’ chances of seeking humanitarian asylum. The lifting of the policy comes as migrant apprehension numbers have peaked to record-high levels.
Shortly after the briefing, the Supreme Court issued a temporary hold on the expiration of the policy. Republican attorneys general asked the court Monday to intervene in the lower court’s decision to end the Trump-era protocol.
CBS News White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe questioned the press secretary on the White House’s potential plan to work with Congress on securing the U.S.-Mexico border. Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden’s administration has pleaded with Congress since “day one” to assist them in easing the border crisis.
“It resulted in virtually no change in immigration policy with Democrats in charge, so how’s it going to get any easier with Republicans in charge?” O’Keefe asked.
“We’ve asked for the $3.5 billion, we’re going to continue to ask Congress to assist in helping with — especially congressional Republicans — to help us with what’s going [on] at the border, if they are indeed serious about doing that,” she said. “But look, even without their assistance, without many Republicans being involved here, congressional Republicans, we have secured more resources for the border than any president before — who preceded this current president.”
Jean-Pierre touted the administration addition of 23,000 border agents and namely the “historic action” taken by the administration to combat the influx of fentanyl flowing across the southern border. She argued Biden has achieved his immigration efforts without the assistance of “many congressional Republicans.” She also said Republicans should pass the administration’s $3.5 billion immigration proposal rather than doing “political stunts.” (RELATED: Doocy Spars With Jean-Pierre On Illegal Immigration)
O’Keefe further asked what the White House’s message is to migrants who may be encouraged to make the journey to the U.S., since it will be “easier” after the expiration of Title 42. The press secretary said the border “is not open” as a result of the policy’s removal.
“It would be wrong to think that the border is open, it is not open,” she concluded. “And I just want to be very, very clear about that.”
Another White House reporter cited Democratic Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar’s Sunday request for Biden to visit the border. The president recently said Dec. 6 he did not plan to visit the border during a trip to Arizona because “there are more important things going on,”
“Does the president have any plans to go to the border? Is now a good time to go?” the reporter asked.
“Like you said, I’ve addressed this before: look, the president’s focus right now is to come up with solutions, is focused on making sure that we have the resources to manage the challenges that we’re seeing at the border. Right now, as you know, we have a budget request in front of Congress, and again, if congressional Republicans are serious about dealing with the challenges that we’re seeing at the border, they will assist,” Jean-Pierre said.
“But given what we’re seeing at the border—” he began.
“I just answered the question,” Jean-Pierre interjected. “I just said we’ve litigated that back and forth here for the past two weeks or so. The president’s focus right now is to make sure that we have the resources to manage what’s happening right now.”
Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich asked Jean-Pierre about the agents and officials in El Paso, Texas, becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the surge in migrations and the lack of resources to assist them. Jean-Pierre answered by saying the Biden administration is in “constant communication” with the mayor of El Paso and is working to increase resources and funding at the border.
Heinrich argued the resources Jean-Pierre spoke about do not appear to be “making a difference” toward the crisis, given the capacity of one facility in particular far exceeded its reported capacity of 1,040.
“Is the view that this is working? That those resources are working, that you guys have said are from the work of this president. Is that sufficient, it is working?” Heinrich asked.
The press secretary repeated that the administration is asking Congress to secure $3.5 billion in funding for the border and called on congressional Republicans to fulfill the request.
Heinrich said some congressional Republicans feel they have a lack of information as to where the money is being allocated, and questioned whether the president has the authority to extend Title 42. Jean-Pierre said the administration is simply abiding by a court order to lift the policy, leading Heinrich to push back.
“But the administration sought to lift it,” Heinrich said.
“But it is a court order,” Jean-Pierre said.
“Started by you guys,” Heinrich continued.
“It was a court order that has been provided to us and so now we have to comply, we have to comply by December 21. It is a law,” she said.
Another journalist asked about Vice President Kamala Harris’ role in combating the border crisis, given she had been appointed to address the “root causes” of migration with the Northern Triangle countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The press secretary said she has “nothing to lay out” regarding the president’s potential partnership with Harris on addressing the current crisis.
“We appreciate her partnership and I would probably refer you to her office for anything specific on the work that she’s doing,” she said.
Jean-Pierre then received a question about the southern countries’ efforts to help assist the U.S., to which she said the administration has made “some progress” with these countries on the crisis and will continue to work with them.
Officials in the administration, including Harris, have repeatedly said the border is “secure,” despite U.S. Customs and Border Protection logging roughly 2.3 million migrant encounters in fiscal year (FY) 2022. Encounters have peaked to record-high numbers in FY 2023, which began in October 2021.
Thousands of migrants have lined up alongside the border awaiting the expiration of Title 42, leaving border officials overwhelmed. Around 2,000 awaited entry as of Dec. 15.