On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused President Joe Biden and his administration of fomenting a “crisis” along the US-Mexico border. Biden’s abandonment of harsh Trump-era policies had created chaos, McCarthy said to news camera while joined by a number of his Republican colleagues. Biden had recently gotten rid of policies such as the one which required immigration officials to prevent unaccompanied children from seeking asylum and the one which allowed immigration officials to arrest and deport undocumented people who attempted to claim underage relatives in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
In McCarthy’s telling of events, US Border Patrol agents are catching people from such far-flung nations as Iran, Yemen, and Sri Lanka who are attempting to illegally enter the country. Another House Republican — Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member John Katko — went even further, claiming that a number of those caught by Customs and Border Protection officers are on the Department of Homeland Security’s terror watch list.
But while Republicans and right-wing media outlets are making noise about a “Biden border crisis” in hopes of inflaming the anti-immigrant base that helped Trump win the White House in 2016, insiders who’ve worked at DHS, Border Patrol, and other executive branch agencies have a different view. These insiders say that many of the allegations being made by House Republicans and some of the problems arising at the border — such as the large number of minors remaining in CBP custody longer than court-ordered and statutory limits — have all the hallmarks of a coordinated push by Border Patrol officers, including the leadership of the Border Patrol’s pro-Trump labor union, to undermine the current administration.
“This is a planned, coordinated attempt to sabotage the Biden administration,” said Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent-turned-immigrant rights activist who works with the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
Budd added that the fact that unaccompanied minors are being kept at Border Patrol stations for extended periods of time appears to be “an internal crisis” of the agency’s own creation: “It does not take that long to process children.”
Budd recounted a time when she approached a border station in 2019 and spoke to agents who were aware that she had been part of the agency but were not aware of her current immigration activism: “I asked them why it was taking them so long to process — it didn’t take that long [even] when I had to hand-write everything back in the day — and they would say, ‘We’re trying to teach them a lesson’. So they were intentionally keeping people in there for over two weeks at a time in these conditions to punish them. That is the only reason why they were doing that.”
Budd continued on to say that the same people who responsible for harsh treatment of migrants during the Trump era are still in charge: “They do this on purpose. And none of that has changed in the management has not changed at all. But the same people who separated families and created the last crisis are doing it again.”
But it’s not just Border Patrol management who are undermining the Biden administration’s attempts to roll back Trump-era immigration policies. It’s also those in charge of the labor union that represents rank-and-file agents, the National Border Patrol Council.
While most federal employee unions are traditionally strongly aligned with the Democratic Party, the NBPC did not endorse presidential candidates until 2016, when it threw its weight behind Trump. In return for the endorsement, Trump gave Border Patrol agents a free hand to implement his policies in the harshest way possible. The union’s support for the former president subsequently continued through the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, and since he has since left office, union officials are now allying themselves against his Democratic successor.