After two months of plain sailing Joe Biden has landed in choppy waters: the president stands accused of inciting a chaotic migrant rush on the US border with Mexico, with the crisis set to loom large over his high-stakes first press conference later this week.
The influx of thousands of migrants has finally given Republicans, who had struggled to find an angle of attack as Biden ramped up the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, some purchase -- uniting their fractured party in the process.
In unison, they have accused the new president of creating the border crisis with a naive immigration stance.
"It's insane and it's nothing compared to what it's going to be over the coming months," Biden's predecessor Donald Trump said in a podcast by conservative host Lisa Boothe that aired Monday morning.
"They will be coming up by the millions," Trump predicted, fanning the flames after weeks of relative silence since he moved to Florida, on a topic that has long been a trigger for his base.
So far Biden has largely avoided the issue, putting his team out front instead. But faced with reporters' questions at his press conference on Thursday he knows he will have to address it head on.
Asked on Sunday evening after a weekend at Camp David, he remained evasive.
Does he intend to go there? "At some point I will, yes." Doesn't he feel the need to see for himself what is going on there? "I know what's going on in those facilities."
Biden's Twitter account is far less of a stream of consciousness than Trump's was. But in a revealing detail, his last 10 tweets discuss masks, vaccinations, St Patrick's Day, the stimulus package, global warming, and violence against Asian Americans... not the situation on the border.
The crisis is thwarting the White House's plans to continue the "Help is Here" tour -- a victory lap promoting the merits of Biden's gigantic, massively popular $1.9 trillion economic aid plan adopted by Congress.
The only presidential trip of the week is scheduled for Tuesday, to Ohio to highlight the positive impact of the "American Rescue Plan" on the health sector.
But at a time when elected officials from both sides of the aisle are multiplying trips to the border -- and the first photos of unaccompanied migrant children, who are at the heart of the controversy, are being released -- the executive branch is struggling to explain how it ended up here and what comes next.
Hundreds of children
Biden has pledged to erase what he has called "a moral and national shame" inherited from Trump, namely the separation of thousands of migrant families, some of whom have still not been reunited.
But while children are no longer separated from their parents at the border, the arrival of large numbers of unaccompanied minors remains a real and pressing issue.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, under fire for his sometimes confusing messaging, did not deny the number of 5,200 children currently being held in centers meant for adults at the border, well above the peak under President Trump.
More than 600 of them have also been there for more than 10 days, even though the law only allows them to transit for a maximum of three days.
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers visited immigration facilities in the El Paso, Texas area last week and several emerged with sharp criticism.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said he saw hundreds of children packed into a "big, open room," and "fought back tears" as he listened to a 13-year-old girl who was distraught after being separated from her grandmother.
A number of migrants who have spoken to AFP at the border have described fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, with activists comparing them to Syrians fleeing the brutality of the Islamic State group. That is the push.
But the pull, many of them said, has been Biden's promise of a more "humane" immigration policy than Trump.