DHS Left Out of White House Talks in Mexico, Guatemala on Stemming Migrant Surge at U.S. Border

NOGALES, AZ - JUNE 18: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Arizona. Brownsville, Texas, and Nogales, have been …
Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials were notably absent from a trip to Guatemala and Mexico made Monday by senior White House officials seeking to hinder the surge of migrants at the southern border, particularly unaccompanied children.

Under the Trump administration, the DHS implemented measures to stem the illegal migrant surge at the southern border after leading negotiations with Mexico and a trio of Central American countries that are a major source of illegal migration.

At least so far, it appears President Joe Biden is relying on the White House and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. State Department to reach agreements with Mexico and Guatemala to curtail the surge of migrants.

Biden is facing intensifying pressure from both sides of the aisle to take more aggressive action to deal with the border crisis. The sitting administration claims the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is only a cyclical challenge.

Special Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southwest Border Amb. Roberta Jacobson, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez, and the newly-appointed Northern Triangle Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga from the State Department made the trip to Mexico and Guatemala Monday.

No one from DHS was on the trip, according to a White House statement.

The high-level meetings between the Biden Administration officials and their Mexican and Guatemalan counterparts came as sitting DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas indicated that apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border might hit highs not seen in 20 years.

U.S. officials and their counterparts in Mexico and Guatemala discussed developing “an effective and humane plan of action to manage” the high-levels of migration to the U.S. southern border at the moment, the White House noted in the statement.

The Americans will also “address root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region,” it added.

President Biden wants to implement a multi-year, $4 billion measure to address the root causes of people leaving Central America, but Congress has yet to approve the funds.

President Joe Biden has dismantled some Trump DHS measures, including the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, that requires illegals who arrive at the southern border seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings.

The Biden Administration also did away with a historic Asylum Cooperative Agreements the Trump DHS signed with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that reduced the incentive for migrants to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. by improving access to asylum protections as in their home countries.

However, Biden is turning to a tactic used by former President Donald Trump: outsourcing immigration enforcement to Mexico amid increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors feeding the border crisis.

Critics of the Biden immigration policies, including not expelling unaccompanied children who reach the border, have led to crowded, inhumane conditions in border patrol facilities.

Some Republicans who visited the border recently also said that the Biden policies are fueling child sex trafficking, among other problems.

Former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who served under Trump, told National Public Radio (NPR) this week that the previous administration warned the Biden folks that dismantling the former president’s immigration policies would trigger problems on the southern border.

“There is no consequence anymore,” Wolf told NPR. “The administration is treating this as though it’s a capacity issue and not an illegal behavior issue, and that’s a fundamental difference.”

Wolf acknowledged that DHS implemented programs such as “Remain in Mexico,” made asylum agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and stopped allowing unaccompanied children to remain in the U.S. in the wake of the last border crisis in 2019.

Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of DHS, “would tell [the Biden Administration] and, in a sense, warn them, ‘If you remove this … this is the consequence for that. We will see a significant uptick,'” Wolf added.

Echoing Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Tuesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that the Biden administration is to blame for the surge at the U.S. southern border.

“Expectations were created that with President Biden’s government, there would be a better treatment of migrants,” López Obrador told reporters. “This has caused Central American migrants, and also from our country, to want to cross the border thinking that it is easier to do so.”

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