Politico reported Friday that people inside the White House are a bit frustrated with HHS Secretary Becerra’s handling of the migrant crisis along the southern border. None of the critics are named in the report but the idea is that some think Becerra is dragging his heals even as this crisis turns into a negative for the Biden administration. Some are even suggesting he’s not equipped to handle the problem.
Biden aides led by Domestic Policy chief Susan Rice and Amy Pope, a senior adviser on migration hired to help direct the administration’s border response, have pressed the health department in meetings over the past several weeks to pick up the pace, warning that the influx of unaccompanied children is only likely to accelerate into the spring and early summer.
But a month into Becerra’s tenure, officials working on the issue have privately questioned his preparedness for managing such a sprawling emergency — and his willingness to take ownership of a historically intractable and politically divisive problem.
“He did not fully appreciate the issue when he first came in,” said one senior administration official. “It’s been a steep learning curve for him.”
There’s even some talk that maybe Becerra is staying out of the limelight on this issue on purpose:
Becerra’s low-key approach has raised suspicions among some involved in the immigration effort that he is reluctant to be seen as owning the issue, lest he become the face it. GOP lawmakers have targeted Becerra over immigration issues before, highlighting his past support for extending health care to undocumented immigrants.
“This is his agency. They’ve done a particularly terrible job, and he doesn’t want to get blamed for it,” one person familiar with the situation vented.
Becerra’s critics probably have more to talk about after an emergency intake center set up by HHS just two weeks ago to hold teenage girls was abruptly closed on Saturday. According to the person who ran that facility, Becerra personally “begged” him to take the kids. But today’s there’s a follow-up report from ABC News saying the conditions there were very bad.
Sources familiar with the facility’s operation said the girls housed there, aged 13-17, were at times instructed to use plastic bags for toilets because there were not enough staff members to accompany them to restrooms. A spokesperson for the nonprofit would neither confirm nor deny these allegations to ABC News.
A lack of outdoor space meant girls spent most of the day on makeshift cots surrounded by boxes intended to offer some semblance of privacy, according to the sources. The facility also suffered from overcrowding and failed to comply with pandemic-related distancing measures, the sources said.
It sounds like Becerra did the right thing by closing this facility, but that only raises the question of why it was allowed to open in the first place. You get the impression HHS is operating in desperation mode. No wonder Becerra doesn’t want to appear on television as the face of this. He knows better than anyone what a disaster this is and is likely to continue to be for the next several months.
HHS is placing about 300 children a day with a relative inside the U.S. but that number would need to triple to see the number of children in temporary facilities drop rather than climb. The administration’s last estimate suggested the number of kids arriving would go up and stay up through September. Finding space for another 50,000 unaccompanied child migrants would be a major challenge for anyone.
I see people on Twitter wondering what has happened to VP Harris and when she’ll show up at the border, but Harris’ focus is apparently on reducing the factors pushing migrants north. It’s Becerra that is responsible for the migrants who make it here and, in particular, the children who are staying here because the Biden administration refuses to deport them.