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Biden pressed on child migration at first news conference

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In his first press conference as US President, Joe Biden has said there are multiple causes for the surge of migrants at the border.

More than 17,000 children are being kept in government run detention centres, according to latest estimates.

Over the hour-long event, he also spoke about topics ranging from guns, foreign policy and the US Covid-19 response.

But question about situation at the US-Mexico border dominated the event.

During the White House news conference, Mr Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the growing humanitarian crisis on the southern border, and said it was normal for the US to experience an influx of migrants in cooler months.

“The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed,” he said, adding: “The reason they’re coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert.”

“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not,” he said, calling the surge a cyclical event.

He also blamed the “circumstances in their country,” including natural disasters, crime and lack of economic opportunity.

media captionThe challenges facing Biden at the US-Mexico border

The US Customs and Border Protection agency releases monthly figures of the number of “encounters” at the southwest land border.

In January and February 2021, 78,442 and 100,441 people were apprehended, respectively. This is a significant increase from previous years.

Still, the highest number in the last few years was in May 2019 during Mr Trump’s presidency – when over 140,000 people were apprehended by the authorities.

What is the reason for the surge?

There are several factors driving the surge at the southern US border. They include:

  • Hope in Biden – “They told us that the US president would order the removal of all obstacles on our path,” 17-year-old Michael told BBC News as he travelled from his native Honduras.
  • Natural disaster – “Our houses collapsed with [Hurricane] Eta. We lost everything,” says Jacqueline, a pregnant 19-year-old walking to the US on foot.
  • Gang Crime – “We tried to start again with our business, but they demanded money from us. We were victims of extortion,” Jacqueline adds.
  • Central American Violence – “One needs to risk everything. But it is better to risk your life here,” says her husband Lionel on their journey through Mexico. “In Honduras you might get killed anyway”.

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