Democrats have done a U-turn on their claim from earlier this year that President Trump’s concern about illegal immigration at the southern border was a “manufactured crisis.”
Democrats now acknowledge there is a genuine humanitarian crisis and are preparing to pass legislation that would provide as much as $4.5 billion in federal aid to address the surge of migrants from Central America.
A surging number of arrests, media reports of smugglers renting children to desperate migrants to help them gain entry into the United States and stories of children dying in U.S. custody have changed the narrative.
Earlier this year, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of exaggerating problems at the border to stoke fear among Americans and distract from the turmoil of his own administration.
After Trump issued an Oval Office address to the nation on Jan. 8 proclaiming the border situation a “crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Schumer and Pelosi gave a side-by-side rebuttal.
“This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” Schumer said in the midst of a 35-day government shutdown sparked by a partisan disagreement over funding border barriers.
Other Democrats made similar dismissals.
“The President has manufactured a humanitarian crisis. It is solely Trump’s fault NOT the Democrats,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) tweeted.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, admonished Trump in a video statement: “Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real ones.”
Trump subsequently backed down and agreed to reopen the government despite getting only $1.3 billion for border barriers, less than what Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted for earlier in the year.
Democrats again balked before the Memorial Day recess when they refused to add Trump’s request for $4.5 billion in emergency border funding to a disaster relief bill that the president signed into law two weeks ago. But the steady stream of heart-wrenching stories and eye-popping statistics has changed the political environment on Capitol Hill, and it now appears a bipartisan deal on the border is imminent.
Polling shows that voters have grown more concerned about the migrant surge at the border since the government shutdown over Trump’s border wall earlier this year. A Washington Post–ABC News poll published in late April found that more than a third of Americans saw illegal immigration as a “crisis,” an increase of 11 percentage points compared to January.
A Harvard CAPS–Harris Poll survey published in early May found that 56 percent of U.S. voters said they believed there is “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the border, while 44 percent said it was a “manufactured political crisis.”
Schumer last week described the Democrats’ plan to address the crisis in a floor speech, and two of its main elements mirrored a plan being pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Graham said Tuesday that he is in talks with Schumer to merge their proposals and expressed hope that reforms such as allowing migrants from Central America to apply for asylum from their own countries or from Mexico and to provide money for more immigration judges on the border — two ideas that Schumer has also endorsed — could be added to the border supplemental bill.
“I haven’t heard anyone say it’s a manufactured crisis for quite some time,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) observed of his Senate Democratic colleagues.
Customs and Border Protection agents have seen a 135 percent increase in apprehensions on the southern border, including a 74 percent increase in unaccompanied minors and a 463 percent increase in family units during the first six months of fiscal 2019 compared to 2018.
Arrests at the border jumped to 144,000 in May, including 55,000 children apprehended. It marked a 32 percent increase compared to April and the highest number of arrests in one month in more than a decade. At least five migrant children have died after being detained by Border Patrol agents.
“In recent weeks it’s gotten clearer and clearer there is a dramatic humanitarian crisis, again, at the border,” said Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
He blamed Trump’s “refusal to move forward” on comprehensive immigration reform as “contributing to that humanitarian crisis” but added “there’s a lot we could do jointly and should do jointly” in Congress right now to address the border situation.
Democrats such as Coons admit that “manufactured crisis” was probably not the best phrase to use months ago as it might now be seen as minimizing the human suffering at the border. Coons said colleagues who used that terminology were trying to argue that Trump’s policies had made the situation worse.
“The phrase manufactured crisis could be misunderstood as suggesting it’s not a real crisis. It is a real crisis. There are people actually suffering. There are children dying. There are families in distress. It is a crisis,” Coons said. “The phrase ‘manufactured’ I think was used by some to emphasize the president’s role in making it worse.”
Asked Tuesday if it was right to call the border situation a manufactured crisis earlier this year, Schumer blamed Trump for making conditions much worse.
“The bottom line is very simple: The border situation has been made worse and worse and worse by President Trump,” he said.
Schumer argued that Trump’s policy of removing young children from their parents in detention is “inhumane” and called the president’s varying strategies for slowing the migrant surge, such as calling for a border wall and threatening tariffs against Mexico, “erratic.”
“Now he says send a million immigrants back home. Every day he has a new policy, none of which have never been followed through on,” he said.
Democrats now concede, however, they may need to give ground on improving border security but claim that Republicans should also be more open to providing assistance to Central American counties, improving the conditions of immigrants detained and giving them a chance to pursue legitimate asylum claims.
Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said conditions at the border have deteriorated dramatically since Democrats accused Trump of using the Oval Office to stoke fears about a “manufactured crisis.”
“It’s actually evolved. We’ve seen an escalation just in the last couple months. We have seen a big increase in the last two of half months from Central America. It evolved over time,” he said.