In a 2014 speech, then-Vice President Joe Biden spoke repeatedly of a “crisis” at the border — a contrast to the current Biden White House’s reluctance to describe a much larger surge as such, instead referring to it as a “challenge.”
Biden made the speech in Guatemala City in June 2014 alongside then-Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and then-Guatemalan President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and said there was unanimity that the “current situation is untenable and unsustainable.”
“We also agreed that this is a matter of shared responsibility — not just the United States, but shared responsibility of every Central American country and Mexico. And I will address in a minute, but we’re all committed to take both immediate steps in the crisis and long-term challenges that we’re going to have to meet,” he said.
He then said he was “going to address the steps we’re taking on the immediate crisis in a moment” but first wanted to talk about the work needed to give Central Americans security and not feel the need to migrate.
Biden then talked about the work the Obama administration was doing “to address the issue at our border.”
“And right now Secretary [Jeh] Johnson and Cecilia Muñoz, the President’s domestic policy adviser, are on the Texas-Mexico border, getting a firsthand look at this crisis,” he said at the time.
Later in the speech, he spoke of the “humanitarian crisis caused by the number of crossings.”
While the current Biden administration has referred to both a “challenge” at the border, and separately a “crisis” in Central America — due to root causes such as poverty, climate and gang violence — it has repeatedly denied that there is a crisis at the southern border, despite crossings and encounters that dwarf those seen in 2014.
There were more than 172,000 migrant encounters in March, numbers that are expected to be echoed in April, and more than 18,000 unaccompanied children encountered. March’s numbers were the highest in 20 years, and significantly higher than any month in 2014, where numbers hovered at around 60,000 during summer months.
Meanwhile, there are now more than 22,000 unaccompanied children in Health and Human Services (HHS) custody and there have been harrowing images of children dumped at the border by smugglers.
The administration has been quickly setting up new shelters, including at military bases, to handle the influx — while also calling on federal employees to volunteer.
Biden, however, did briefly refer to a “crisis” at the border earlier this month when asked about a controversy over the separate issue of the cap on refugees — which he initially kept at Trump-era levels but then lifted after pressure from Democrats.
“We’re going to increase the number [of refugees],” he told reporters. “The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”
But a few days later, the White House walked back those remarks.
“The president does not feel that children coming to our border seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships, and other dire circumstances is a crisis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing, before emphasizing instead a crisis in Central America.
“He does feel that the crisis in Central America, the dire circumstances that many are fleeing from, that that is a situation we need to spend our time, our effort on, and we need to address it if we’re going to prevent more of an influx of migrants from coming in years to come.”