Political

White House press secretary slips up, calls border migrant surge a 'crisis'

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesBy SARAH KOLINOVSKY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — For weeks, Biden administration officials have scrupulously avoided using the word “crisis” to describe the migrant surge on the southern border.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki did exactly that during a press briefing Thursday.

Psaki was responding to a question about U.S. plans to lend doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico, and whether the U.S. made any demands in return for those doses, including increased cooperation on immigration matters.

“There have been expectations set outside of, unrelated to, any vaccine doses or requests for them, that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border,” Psaki said.

Later, when another reporter asked her about her use of the term “crisis,” she immediately reverted to “challenges” — the word the White House has been using when repeatedly pressed on the most accurate way to refer to the growing problem.

“When you were talking about how to go about diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico, you said ‘crisis on the border’,” the reporter said.

“Challenges on the border,” Psaki quickly tried to correct him, denying she intended to convey any change in the administration’s official view.

Psaki has fielded dozens of questions on whether the situation at the border amounts to a crisis over the past few weeks.

As the number of people crossing the border, especially unaccompanied minors who are not turned away, has continued to climb, Psaki has been adamant that the word ‘crisis’ should not be used.

“Look, I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the president, what our policy teams are working on every single day,” she said March 9.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas steadfastly refused to refer to the situation as a “crisis” while testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

“Given the tremendous rise and surge of individuals coming to the border, wouldn’t it be fair to call it a crisis?” Rep. John Katko of New York, the ranking Republican member on the House Homeland Security Committee, asked Mayorkas.

“I’m not spending any time on the language that we use,” Mayorkas said. “I am spending time on the operational response to the situation at the border.”

Mayorkas has also tried to use the word “challenge” to describe an influx of migration.

Asked if he believes there is a crisis at the border, Mayorkas said on March 1, “I think the answer is no. I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it.”

“The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock, seven days a week, to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border, that we manage the challenge, as acute is the challenge is,” he continued.

The White House’s coordinator for the southern border, and former ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, has also tried to avoid calling the increasing number of migrants a crisis.

“I’m not trying to be cute here, but I think the fact of the matter is, we have to do what we do regardless of what anybody calls the situation,” she said March 10.

The administration’s effort to minimize concern about immigration comes as the House is voting on bills that would provide pathways to citizenship for certain undocumented farmworkers as well as so-called “Dreamers,” or undocumented who arrived in the U.S. as children. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the plan to give legal status to undocumented immigrants would only encourage more illegal entries.

“The House is voting on immigration bills. Are they leaping into action to repair the crisis? No — they’re taking up an amnesty plan that would create a special new pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants working in certain industries. So, to summarize: The administration can’t admit they’ve caused a crisis; they have yet to address the crisis; and House Democrats are backing policies that would only exacerbate the wrong incentive,” McConnell said Thursday.

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