The Biden administration defends its response to the historic number of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border alone, touting efforts to open more than 20,000 beds for minors, as well as assistance to Central American communities suffering from poverty, violence and natural disasters. .
“We have made significant progress,” said a senior Biden administration official who requested anonymity during a call with reporters on Wednesday.
The official, however, warned that “no one should expect this to be resolved overnight,” saying the Biden administration was digging a “hole” created by the former asylum restrictions. President Donald Trump and his reluctance to expand bed space in shelters. for migrant children.
Nearly 18,900 unaccompanied migrant children entered detention in the United States along the border with Mexico in March, the highest monthly tally in history, according to government data released Thursday. As of Wednesday, there were more than 20,000 unaccompanied minors in US government custody – a record as well.
The sharp increase in the number of migrant children arriving at the southern border without parents has depleted bed space in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for housing unaccompanied minors until he could place them with relatives in the United States. the lack of shelter beds has created a massive bottleneck for unaccompanied children in overcrowded and ill-adapted border patrol facilities.
Border patrol tents and posts were housing around 4,200 unaccompanied children on Wednesday, up from more than 5,700 last week. Over the past few days, the border patrol has been able to transfer more minors out of their custody than they have received. The number of children in HHS-supervised shelters and emergency shelters simultaneously reached record levels, surpassing 16,000 on Wednesday.
Biden administration officials said recent progress in getting children out of Border Patrol dungeons can be attributed in part to efforts by the HHS to dramatically increase its bed capacity. The HHS refugee office is expected to open at least 11 emergency accommodation sites with 18,200 beds in convention centers, labor camps, church hall and military posts in Texas and California.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement also increased the capacity of its network of state-approved shelters by adding 500 new beds and reactivating more than 1,500 beds that had been taken offline to implement social distancing. last year, said an administration official.
The refugee agency enlisted help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and hundreds of volunteers from across the federal government who were tasked with facilitating the release of migrant children to sponsors. The agency has also created a fast-track process for the release of unaccompanied minors whose parents in the United States are willing to care for them – a measure designed to make room in shelters for newcomers.
Administration officials at Wednesday’s briefing said these efforts would alleviate the logistical challenges posed by the record number of unaccompanied children entering U.S. detention, but noted that unauthorized migration to the border Southern United States will continue to be a recurring problem unless conditions in Central America improve. and legal channels for immigration are put in place.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it is sending a disaster response team to Central American communities grappling with drought, food insecurity and devastation. back-to-back hurricanes of last year.
The State Department also reinstated an Obama-era program ended by the Trump administration that allows certain Central American children to enter the United States on refugee or parole status if they have family members living in the country with legal status.
An administration official said congressional authorization was needed to tighten sanctions for smuggling migrants; expanding the infrastructure to deal with asylum seekers; hire more judges and asylum officers; and create legal immigration routes for Central Americans seeking to come to the United States to reunite with their families or to work.
Overall, US officials made 172,000 apprehensions along the southern border in March, a 15-year monthly record. Nearly 104,000 of the apprehensions – or 60% of them – turned into swift deportations as part of a Trump-era public health measure known as Title 42.
About 28% of migrants processed under Title 42 authorities had previously been deported by U.S. border officials, according to an administration official. “The levels of flows pose a challenge for the border patrol, but the high level of recidivism means that we cannot view these flows as individual people. It is often the same people who return,” officials said.
The Biden administration has so far refused to revive the Trump-era practice of using the Title 42 public health authority to deport unaccompanied children. It also applies the policy to fewer families.
About 67% of the roughly 53,000 migrant parents and children in U.S. custody as families in March were treated under immigration law and allowed to stay in the country while their cases are pending. judge. An administration official said the high number of families allowed to stay stems from Mexico’s reluctance to accept Central American families with young children in Tamaulipas state and the inability to deport some nationalities to Mexican territory.
The official also admitted that border officials have recorded some cases of families allowing their children to enter US detention unaccompanied, fearing that they will be deported if they travel together.
Title 42 border evictions were first authorized in March 2020 by then-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield, who argued the policy would prevent coronavirus outbreaks in migrant detention facilities. Asked about the effectiveness of the Title 42 policy given its inconsistent application and unintended consequences, an administration official said there were no new policy announcements.
“We are doing our best to deport under Title 42 where we can and where there is capacity on the Mexican side,” the official added.
Andrew Selee, president of the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, said inconsistent enforcement of CDC-authorized evictions swelled the number of single adults apprehended, prompting families to enter the United States through dangerous areas of Mexico and contributing to the historic increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children.
“There might come a time when the public health benefits and deterrent effects of Title 42 are no longer terribly significant and some of the unintended consequences are – and it outlives its usefulness,” Selee told CBS News.
During Wednesday’s call, an administration official said the US government ultimately wanted to process asylum seekers at official border ports, highlighting the admission of some migrants forced by the Trump administration to wait at Mexico their audiences as a model to follow. More than 5,000 asylum seekers listed in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), now missing, have been allowed to enter the United States as part of the process, which involves coronavirus testing in Mexico.
“What we are trying to do is safe and orderly processing at points of entry,” the official added. “The winding-up of the MPP is a good example of a really successful program.”