Former President Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform to fix a “dysfunctional” system as the Biden administration grapples with what he called a “heartbreaking” migrant crisis at the southern border.
Obama, during an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that aired Tuesday, said reform to the U.S. immigration system is “something that is long overdue.” He added that immigration is a “tough” issue because Americans want to be compassionate but that the U.S. having open borders is an “unsustainable” idea.
Obama’s comments come after more than 14,000 Haitian migrants camped under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after a surge in border crossings.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas admitted Sunday that the vast majority of Haitian migrants who crossed the southern U.S. border in recent weeks have already been released into the United States and it is possible that more will follow them.
So far, approximately 12,400 of the people are having their cases heard by immigration judges, while another 5,000 are being processed by the Department of Homeland Security. Only 3,000 are in detention.
Obama said the situation in Del Rio “is a painful reminder that we don’t have this right yet and we’ve got more work to do.”
“As big-hearted as he is, nobody understands that better than Joe Biden,” Obama said. “And the question is now: Are we gonna get serious about dealing with this problem in a systemic way, as opposed to these one-offs where we’re constantly reacting to emergencies? And I think that that’s something that every American should wanna put an end to.”
Obama added that “immigration is tough” and “always has been.”
“Immigration is tough. It always has been because, on the one hand, I think we are naturally a people that wants to help others,” Obama said. “And we see tragedy and hardship and families that are desperately trying to get here so that their kids are safe, and they’re in some cases fleeing violence or catastrophe.”
He added: “At the same time, we’re a nation state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that … as a practical matter, is unsustainable.”
The Biden administration has faced fierce criticism for its handling of the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, which Republican critics have blamed on the dramatic rollback of Trump-era policies, like border wall construction and the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). It has also narrowed interior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) priorities and pushed hard for legalization of illegal immigrants already in the country. It has also been releasing migrants into the interior, processing UACs to sponsors already in the country and releasing migrant families — angering Republican governors and other lawmakers.
There were more than 200,000 migrant encounters at the southern border in August, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed earlier this month, the second month in a row where the number has been over the 200,000 mark as migrants continue to attempt to enter the U.S.
Fox News first reported that there were 208,887 encounters in August. While it marks the first decrease in migrant encounters seen under the Biden administration, where migrant encounters have been sharply rising for months, it is only a 2% drop over the more than 212,000 encounters in July.
The Biden administration has pushed back, blaming the Trump administration for sealing off legal pathways to asylum while emphasizing the role that root causes – like poverty, violence and corruption in Central America – play in encouraging migrants to travel north.
Mayorkas said the administration intends to continue with its border strategy, which he said involves rebuilding “safe, legal and orderly pathways for migrants,” improving processing, and going after smugglers.
“We have a plan, we are executing our plan and that takes time,” he said in August, when he announced the July border numbers.
He also told border agents in audio leaked to Fox News that the situation is “unsustainable.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.