A proposal to vaccinate migrants, which caused controversy inside the White House last year, is back on the table as the Biden administration attempts to change the way the United States handles migrants at the southern border.
When a report on the proposal surfaced in August, top White House officials, including Chief of Staff Ron Klain, attempted to reassure the public that the plan was not being implemented.
Klain and Susan Rice, one of President Joe Biden’s top aides, opposed the proposal, which was intended to address public health concerns, because they believed it would encourage more people to visit the United States. Migrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as minors in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, were already offered vaccinations. However, the proposal would apply to migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border and released in the country while they await court hearings.
According to a senior administration official, the plan, which originated at the Department of Homeland Security, is back before the White House, but no decision has been made.
A White House spokesperson denied the story about Klain and Rice, saying that “a decision on vaccinations for migrants had not been made at the time, just as it has not been made now.”
Following a year of record arrests and fierce political backlash, Biden administration officials are attempting to reset and resurface plans to rework how the US handles migrants at the US-Mexico border. However, the issues and political concerns that have plagued the administration in recent months are likely to persist.
During his first days in office, Biden set lofty goals for repealing his predecessor’s hardline policies, overhauling the US immigration system, and creating a better, more humane system at the southern border. And his administration has made strides on a number of fronts. As of January 19, 2022, the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, had recorded nearly 300 executive actions on immigration.
The US-Mexico border, on the other hand, receives the most attention, and the administration has had to balance achieving progressive goals with being concerned about optics as Republicans seized on the issue as an example of poor management.
In response to increased migration to the United States, Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris, who is scheduled to visit Honduras next week, to address the root causes of migration, an intractable issue that has dogged administrations for years and takes time to resolve.
Internally, the back-and-forth pits officials into two camps: those who want to take a more progressive stance and those who want to deter migrants, which has long been a US position.
A slew of Biden appointees who had been lauded by immigrant advocates and assigned to immigration have left – or plan to leave – the administration, including Andrea Flores, an ACLU attorney who has since joined the office of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, Tyler Moran, and Esther Olavarria, who is retiring.
According to one source familiar with internal discussions, the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors just weeks into Biden’s presidency was a “big political bruise” that stalled plans to overhaul the border system. Instead, as border arrests increased, discussions inside the White House about the return of a Trump-era border policy requiring non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico – a program condemned by Biden on the campaign trail – began to heat up, according to the source. A lower court later ordered that the policy be reinstated.
Officials from the Trump administration have admitted that progress on constructing a new border system between the United States and Mexico has been difficult.
According to sources, the last year’s turbulence stems in part from record border apprehensions, which are frequently used as a barometer of an administration’s success. According to the source, Klain was irritated by the growing number of migrants at the US-Mexico border, which is reflected in border arrest figures, and he called meetings with the chief of staff tense.
Previously, as conditions in the Western Hemisphere deteriorated, previous administrations faced similar challenges on the US southern border. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated those conditions, forcing the Biden administration to deal with an even larger number of migrants at the border, many of whom are claiming asylum.