Is Biden responsible for the ‘crisis’ at the Southern border? Utah governor signs on to letter blaming him ‘entirely.’

The letter blames Biden administration policies for contributing to a surge in migrants at the border. Experts say it’s more complicated than that.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) First lady Jill Biden, right, greets Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Abby Cox after arriving in Salt Lake City on Air Force Two, Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday joined 18 other Republican governors in signing a joint letter blaming President Joe Biden’s administration for the “crisis at the southern border” and calling for immediate action to address it.

The letter comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported a surge in border crossings, with some 172,000 people taken into custody in March — the highest number in at least 15 years, according to The New York Times. In the same month, nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers were apprehended.

“The cause of the border crisis,” the Republican governors wrote to the new president, “is entirely due to reckless federal policy reversals executed within your first 100 days in office.” And they say the president’s policies have led to the “inhumane treatment of tens of thousands of children and undermined a fragile immigration system.”

But while many Republicans have pinned the border surge on Biden’s more welcoming rhetoric to immigrants and his rollback of several policies enacted by former President Donald Trump, experts say there are several other factors at play — including the back-to-back hurricanes that slammed Central America last year.

Those storms particularly devastated food crops and displaced people in Honduras and Guatemala, and The New York Times has reported that citizens from those nations make up “most of the migrants now trying to enter the United States.”

In announcing the high border crossing numbers in March, Customs and Border Protection officials said last month that the increase was “not new” and that encounters have been rising since April 2020. The office blamed the rising numbers on “violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America.”

The letter from the Republican governors makes no mention of the way those natural disasters may have contributed to the surge. Instead, they pin the border crisis on Biden’s “irresponsible rhetoric” and reversal of a “slew of policies — from halting border wall construction to eliminating asylum agreements to refusing to enforce immigration laws.”

The letter does not specify which immigration laws the Biden administration has not enforced.

It’s true that Biden has reversed several Trump-era policies and has allowed unaccompanied minors to enter the country as their asylum claims are processed, unlike under the previous administration. But the current U.S. policy to turn away adults at the border is in keeping with rules put in place by the former president in connection with the pandemic.

Cox and the other Republican governors argued in the letter Tuesday that Biden’s immigration policies have had humanitarian impacts, leading children to be “exploited and trafficked by gangs and cartels.”

The lack of border security, they said, is also a criminal issue that threatens “the safety of American citizens,” pointing to a more than 230% increase in the amount of fentanyl seized by Customs and Border Protection officials for the first three months in 2021 compared to the same timeframe in 2020.

“Law enforcement officials are recovering drugs, illegal narcotics, and weapons being smuggled across the border by cartels — the same cartels that are also trafficking men, women, and children and jeopardizing their lives,” they wrote.

At the same time the amount of fentanyl by weight has increased, drug seizure statistics from Customs and Border Protection show a nearly 11% decrease in the amount of heroin and 23% decrease in the amount of marijuana. Methamphetamine seizure by weight was up nearly 7%, and cocaine was up 155%.

In their letter, the Republican governors also fault the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services for calling upon several states to point to potential housing locations for migrants and say the office “circumvented our states altogether by asking private organizations and nonprofits to house unaccompanied minor children.”

“Allowing the federal government to place a potentially unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our states’ facilities for an unspecified length of time with almost zero transparency is unacceptable and unsustainable,” they wrote. “We have neither the resources nor the obligation to solve the federal government’s problem and foot the bill for the consequences of this Administration’s misguided actions.”

Cox, through this letter, isn’t the only Utah politician that has taken a stance recently on the Biden administration’s handling of immigration.

Utah Republican Rep. Burgess Owens said during his trip to McAllen, Texas, last month that the issue hits close to home for many Americans, not just those who live along the southern border, and he stated falsely that the “borders are open right now.”

“We are seeing every single day people coming here and within hours getting on a train or a plane and going to your neighborhood,” he said. “So, no Americans, this isn’t a border issue anymore. They are coming to your neighborhoods, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, and there is a cartel influence along the way.”

Asked to elaborate, Owens’ staff pointed to news stories about the federal government seeking to fly families and unaccompanied minors to border locations near Canada and to San Diego for processing and to articles about rural areas of Arizona that complained about border agents leaving migrants there when they don’t have the resources to help.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee has also spoken against the president for ending Trump’s rule requiring all people seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico.

The letter from Cox and the other Republican governors ends by urging Biden to “take action to end the humanitarian crisis and secure our southern border immediately.”

It does not specify what steps they would like to see him take.