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House GOP Leader Blasts Biden At Southern Border As Democrats Ready Immigration Bills

Updated March 15, 2021 at 5:11 PM ET

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy dubbed the surge in migrants showing up at the U.S. southern border, especially unaccompanied children, the "Biden border crisis" during a trip to Texas with a delegation of Republican lawmakers.

"It's more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak," McCarthy said at a press conference on Monday after a tour of the El Paso Processing Center. "This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration."

McCarthy said border patrol agents told him sheltering facilities are quickly reaching capacity and the number of migrants is "growing exponentially every day."

The California Republican and twelve of his GOP members slammed Biden for what they see as a slow response to the uptick in migrants along the southern border. They said none of the migrant families they met Monday had been tested for COVID-19.

The Biden administration has stressed in recent days that people should not try and migrate to the United States across the border.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, told reporters Monday afternoon that she wrote McCarthy a letter when she learned of his planned visit to her district, offering to connect him with "folks who could be able to give him a complete picture of what's happening on the ground."

"Unfortunately, not only did [he] did not take me up on my offer to get a full picture of what's happening on the border, he obviously only wanted a very narrow perspective," she said. "He and my colleagues also used language that I think is very dangerous and very unfortunate."

She added: "We saw my Republican colleagues using the border and using my community as a prop. That's not new."

DNC spokesperson Eduardo Silva echoed Escobar's comments in a statement, saying, "Republicans for years — including the last four years — did nothing to help with the nation's immigration issues. Unless Republicans come back from the border with a commitment to helping President Biden solve the problem, this visit is nothing more than a political stunt."

McCarthy sent a letter to President Biden in early March requesting to meet with him to discuss the increasing number of migrants at the border and to "work together to solve it," but he said he hadn't gotten a response.

McCarthy's trip comes as the Biden administration grapples with a surge in children arriving at the border without their parents, leading to record numbers of minors being held in warehouse-like detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They're supposed to be moved quickly to more appropriate shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Saturday evening, the Department of Homeland Security announced that over the next 90 days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help process the high levels of unaccompanied migrant children.

"Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

Mayorkas may be asked about the situation on the border on Wednesday morning, when he's scheduled to testify virtually in front of the House Homeland Security Committee on "the way forward on homeland security."

Pathways to citizenship for various groups

Amid the focus on the southern border, congressional Democrats are mobilizing on several pieces of legislation that would construct a pathway to legal status for millions of people living in the country.

This week the House will begin consideration of two bills aimed at amending the immigration system, according to the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The first, the American Dream and Promise Act, would establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children — otherwise known as "DREAMers." It would also include a pathway to citizenship for people granted temporary protected status, along with those who were recipients of deferred enforced departure as of Jan. 20, 2021.

The House will also consider the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would create a system in which a worker in the agricultural industry could earn temporary status with an eventual option to become a permanent resident. It also would amend the existing H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program.

Both bills have strong support from Democrats and passed the lower chamber in 2019.

It's unclear how they would fare in the Senate, where they would be in need of Republican support. While some GOP Senators have backed similar policies as part of broader bills it's unlikely there would be 10 Republicans willing to work with Democrats on these specific pieces of immigration reform.

The bills represent a more targeted approach at passing immigration legislation than Biden's comprehensive immigration proposal — the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 — which could face significant opposition among Republicans in the Senate.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.