During a 2019 Democratic presidential primary debate, President Biden said that the United States is a country that tells people struggling under oppression or poor conditions, "You should come," as he argued for a more open asylum policy.
But now, as his administration deals with a crush of migrants on the southwestern border ‒ many being kept in poor conditions similar to those Democrats considered a scandal under the Trump administration ‒ Biden is telling migrants to remain in place.
"They deserve to be heard. That's who we are," Biden said of those applying for asylum in a 2019 debate moderated by Univision's Jorge Ramos. "We're a nation that says, 'You want to flee, and you're fleeing oppression, you should come.'"
This year, as Republicans blame Biden's campaign rhetoric and policies for the situation at the border, the president has shifted and is telling migrants that they should stay in their home countries as he aims to let them apply for asylum where they are.
"I can say quite clearly don't come over," Biden told ABC's George Stephanopolous in an interview last week. "So don't leave your town or city or community. We're gonna make sure we have facilities in those cities and towns run by department of — by DHS and also access with HHS, the Health and Human Services, to say you can apply for asylum from where you are right now."
The White House was pressed on the comments by Fox News' Peter Doocy during Monday's briefing.
"Sometimes there is language that is used by some that is not including the full context of his comments," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about Biden's debate comment. "I will say that he still believes that he wants our country to be a place that there is asylum processing at the border. Where people are considered and go through a proper process who are fleeing prosecution, who should be considered for immigration status."
She added that the immigration process as it currently stands "was broken by the last administration" and the president wants to pass immigration legislation.
Biden and his administration have noted that there were significant migrant surges under the Trump administration as well. A White House spokesperson also said that "push forces," including "violence, economic hardships, corruption plus two hurricanes and a global pandemic," are driving people in Central America to the U.S.
"Yeah. Well, here's the deal. They're not," Biden said when Stephanopolous told him that migrants are saying they are coming to the U.S. because he was elected president.
But the first two months of 2021 have seen more border encounters by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) than in corresponding months of any of the past three years. There were over 100,000 border encounters in February.
Meanwhile, many migrants are saying that they decided to come to the U.S. because Biden was elected president.
Exclusive Fox News photos from a migrant camp show a Biden campaign flag flying over the camp. In another photo, a man is wearing a shirt that says "Biden let us in," which is similar to shirts other migrants were spotted wearing.
One migrant interviewed by ABC News said that he "definitely" would not have come to the United States if former President Trump was still in office.
"We have a chance, you know. The same environment that's going on today wasn't there last year," he said. After being asked if he came to the U.S. because Biden was elected, the migrant said, "Basically," while also emphasizing the violence in his country.
A different migrant interviewed by Fox News said that migrants are tuning out Biden's newer pleas to stay away partially because of the dangerous conditions in Central America.
"They're not," he said when asked if migrants are listening to Biden's message not to come to the United States.
"Look, if you guys lived in our country, you guys would know that it's really tough," the migrant said, citing violence and killing in his hometown.
"It's not gonna stop, ever," he added on the migrant surge. "I'll tell you that, it's not gonna stop."
This came after a top Biden adviser earlier this month seemed to admit that the president's campaign rhetoric may have played a role in the current border surge.
"We've seen surges before. Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent-up demand," Southern Border Coordinator Roberta Jacobson said earlier this month. "There was a hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent-up demand, so I don't know if I would call that a coincidence."
The situation at the border is becoming one of the biggest tests of the new president's ability to handle a crisis.
The administration has come under harsh scrutiny for not allowing reporters into facilities on the border that are housing migrants. But some recent photos released by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, show migrants being kept in cramped facilities akin to cages, similar to images that caused outrage among Democrats under Trump.
Democrats and the Biden administration have blamed the Trump team for leaving them in a poor situation.
"What we are seeing is the result of President Trump's dismantlement of the safe and orderly immigration processes that were built over many, many years by presidents of both parties," Homeland Security Secretay Alejandro Mayorkas said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's what we are seeing, and that's why it's taking time for us to execute our plans to administer the humanitarian claims of vulnerable children. That's what this is about."
But Republicans maintain that the current surge is Biden's doing.
"He removes remaining in Mexico policy. He removes the PACR policy. He stops the building of the wall. He questions whether to keep Title 42," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said last week. "That's why you put your whole family together to make this trek. Because you just listened to what President Biden said. No law has changed by moving of Congress. This entire crisis is created simply by Joe Biden's actions and words."
Fox News' Peter Doocy, Griff Jenkins, Ronn Blitzer and Morgan Phillips contributed to this report.