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"Desperate" migrants continue to seek asylum in U.S. despite officials saying not to come

Biden administration: "The border is closed"
Biden administration: "The border is closed" 03:19

The number of unaccompanied children who have crossed the southern border, who are now in U.S. custody, has grown to more than 15,000.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar shared images taken inside a Border Patrol facility for unaccompanied children in Donna, Texas, which show kids crowded together in makeshift rooms.

A view inside a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility for unaccompanied minors, in Donna, Texas.   Rep. Henry Cuellar

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, visited a border facility last week and tweeted, "I fought back tears as a 13-year-old girl sobbed uncontrollably explaining through a translator how terrified she was."

CBS News has been told families are still just trying to get to the other side to turn themselves in, thinking they can claim asylum here. But the Biden administration says most families will be sent right back.

It's what happened to Glenda Mendez, of Guatemala. She and her 14-year-old son Gustavo have been living at a migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico for a month now. She told correspondent Manuel Bojorquez she wanted people to see them as human beings, trying the best for their children.

When asked how their stay has been, Gustavo replied, "Very difficult."

Why? "A lot of dangers here in Mexico," he said.

They hadn't considered sending him into the United States alone, though the Biden administration's policy toward unaccompanied minors would mean he could stay in the U.S. while his case is processed.

Reporting from Juarez, Bojorquez said he has seen pockets along the border where people are getting through to the United States, but he has also seen Border Patrol agents on the other side apprehend them rather quickly. Within minutes of arriving at one stretch of the border, with El Paso on the other side, he witnessed a man with a child in his arms and a woman rush across into the United States. They appeared to be spotted soon after.

So, why cross now?

Current policy is that migrants, whether they cross illegally or through a port of entry, apply for asylum in the United States. President Biden said the administration is working to change that. "We're in the process of doing it now, including making sure that we reestablish what existed before, which was they can stay in place and make their case from their home country," Mr. Biden said.

But many people, like Glenda Mendez, say waiting is not possible. She told Bojorquez that it was more the fear of the threats against her and her family that brought her here, not necessarily the policy.

On "CBS This Morning" Monday, Murphy told co-host Tony Dokoupil that the decision by families to send their children unaccompanied to the United States shows how desperate conditions are in their home countries, where the violence has created a humanitarian crisis: "These families know these kids are going to likely end up in these detention facilities, but for them that's better than facing certain death or recruitment into vicious drug gangs in their home countries.

"Listen, I wouldn't want my children to be in those detention facilities. But this isn't 2019. These aren't cages. There are doctors and childcare workers there, and the Biden administration is trying to deal with a mess they were left from the Trump admiration. The Trump administration effectively dismantled the asylum system. And so, Biden is trying to stand it up as quickly as he can, get these kids processed, so they can have a chance to make the case to stay in the United States."

Senator Chris Murphy on border facility visit... 05:09

Murphy pointed out that the current policy for unaccompanied minors is the same policy that applied to everyone during the Trump administration prior to the coronavirus pandemic, when all were permitted to stay in the U.S. pending their court applications for asylum.

"Nothing is new here," he said. "The border is not open, but for these select young children. It's just not right to turn them around and send them back into dangerous northern Mexico by themselves. As a compassionate, humane country, we need to take care of them and protect them. … If the people really are facing death if they go back home, we should give them a chance to stay – at least for now, these children."

He added, "Remember, 50% of these children don't actually pass the asylum bar, they actually do eventually get turned around and sent back home."

For the current crisis, Republicans have blamed the president. On ABC's "This Week," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said, "The message is coming back that, 'Hey, we've got a new president, come on in!'"

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas repeatedly said that was not the message: "The border is closed," he said on CNN.

When asked on "CBS This Morning" if he thought there might be a bipartisan solution to border issues in Congress, Murphy replied, "My worry is that Republicans see this right now as a political wedge to try to hurt the president and drive down his very high approval ratings. They don't really want to talk about the current real crisis in America, which is COVID and the battered economy. President Biden is doing some pretty amazing things to get us back on the right footing with respect to our economic troubles. Republicans don't want to talk about that, so they want to talk about the border."

President Biden said he may visit the border, but did not specify when.

Meanwhile, Mexico is beefing up its presence along its southern border, where migrants are streaming in from Central and South America.  

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