Biden administration says 14,000 migrant youngsters in its custody because it refuses to name border state of affairs a ‘disaster’
The latest update comes as President Joe Biden and his top advisors work urgently to find solutions to the border situation, including expanding capacity to accommodate unaccompanied children and working with Mexico to manage the flow of migrants from Central America.
Officials said there were more than 9,500 children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services and around 4,500 with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That’s an increase from earlier this week. The average length of stay for a child in HHS detention is 34 days, one official added.
The situation has given rise to scrutiny and allegations that Biden’s friendlier attitude towards migrants has led to a rush from Central America. Biden himself tried to refute this idea in an interview this week.
However, with the number of children in federal custody increasing, the White House is under pressure to find an answer that will alleviate the problem while maintaining the more humane approach that Biden advocated.
When briefing reporters on Thursday, senior government officials insisted that it was former President Donald Trump’s policies that left them in the current state of affairs and that flows of migrants were to be expected.
“Children presenting themselves at the border are not a national crisis,” said one of the officials on condition of anonymity.
“January 20 was not suddenly the moment when the border looked different. The number is constantly rising and falling,” said the official. “Adults are rejected. Most families are rejected. We can process and protect children who push our limits to seek help as the law requires, and our administration does.”
Despite government efforts to downplay the current surge in migrants, CBP is well on its way to meeting more people at the border than in the past 20 years, Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday. He said the agency is encountering children between the ages of six and seven.
Mayorkas’ television appearances this week, coupled with briefings from officials, are meant to show that administration is at the top of the issue. Biden was harshly criticized by Republicans, but also by some Democrats, for his behavior.
Administration officials said Thursday that most adult migrants and migrant families would be expelled. However, they acknowledged that Mexico’s ability to accept migrants, especially those with young children, was limited. And they reiterated that the Biden government would not expel unaccompanied minors.
“We are dealing with the hand that was given to us. The president has inherited a mess,” said one official. “We have a holistic approach to government to clean up the chaos.”
The administration’s focus is now on expanding the capacity of its facilities and accelerating the processing of unaccompanied children so that they can be released from government care more quickly, officials said Thursday.
This includes changing the Covid-19 protocols in a way that increases the number of people admitted to each facility, opening new facilities, and paying for the flights or transportation of children with family members or guardians.
Officials also stressed that they were trying diplomatically to address the root causes of migration from Central America, which include violence, poverty and, this year, two devastating hurricanes.
But these efforts are long-term. For now, the government said it was trying to quickly increase capacity in new CBP facilities in Texas and Arizona to accommodate the incoming migrants while providing a basic level of convenience.
An official said the temporary processing facility operated by CBP in Donna, Texas, where most unaccompanied children arrive at the border, was “designed to provide the best possible care in the circumstances.”
The official said it included three meals a day, access to regular snacks, freedom of movement, phone calls, showers and occasional outdoor recreational activities.
“I would say people are doing their best to provide care in a facility that really is not designed to accommodate large numbers of children,” said one official.
Media requests to tour the Donna facility have been repeatedly denied as DHS cites Covid restrictions. And while the White House said Wednesday it would discuss the release of public photos taken by an administrative delegation from the Donna Facility earlier this month, it sounded unlikely a day later.
“There was a private briefing, an internal briefing from a few weeks ago. We don’t normally make these materials publicly available, but we want you to be able to, or a pool of media, to have your own pictures and to get your own footage of these facilities, “said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary.
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