Thune criticizes Biden's border policy, says wall is needed

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Thune is piling on criticism of President Joe Biden’s immigration strategy, insisting after visiting the border in South Texas that he’s convinced a wall is necessary.

The Republican from South Dakota and other GOP senators last week toured a federal migrant facility in Donna, Texas, and spoke with members of the U.S. Border Patrol. As Democrats in Congress look to pass immigration reforms, the border trip gave Republicans a chance to criticize Biden's approach and call for beefed up security.

“Right now, it’s just chaos,” Thune said. “We need some order.”

The No. 2 Senate Republican told the Associated Press on Sunday that there is appetite among GOP senators for an initiative passed in the House that would offer a process for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to obtain U.S. citizenship. But he indicated that Republicans will push for concessions, such as resuming border wall construction and reinstituting former President Donald Trump's policy of making asylum seekers wait in Mexico.

“The conditions that Democrats never want to put into the conversation about immigration are the steps that are necessary to keep the border secure and to stop the flow,” he said.

Thune called it a border “crisis” that could have been prevented if Biden had heeded the warnings of the U.S. Border Patrol and immigration experts. The number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has surged in recent weeks, presenting a challenge to Biden's legislative agenda.

Biden administration officials have said they inherited an untenable situation that resulted from what they say was Trump’s undermining and weakening of the immigration system. But Thune blamed Biden's reversal of Trump's policies, saying it sent a “green light” to people looking to come to the U.S.

He acknowledged border security is "a challenge that’s faced the country for some time,” but worried about border patrol reports that half of its resources are going to caring for children who arrive alone.

He said one official at the facility in Donna asked one of his fellow senators to delete a video he took that showed children tightly packed in plastic partitions and sleeping under foil blankets.

“It breaks your heart to see these kids,” Thune said, “just packed in there like sardines.”

Democrats have countered Republicans' concerns about the border facilities by alleging hypocrisy after years of cheering tougher Trump policies. They say part of the surge has been caused by immigrants who were stuck at the border waiting to advance legitimate asylum claims the Trump administration failed to process.

But Thune said that “as long as the perception is that there's an open, porous border, people are going to keep coming.”