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US shows progress in transferring migrant children from border prisons

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is starting to see some success in its efforts to house thousands of children and adolescents on the southwest border, with a fraction of the number of children still being held in patrol-run prisons border than a month ago.

The government on Friday reported a drop of more than 80% over the past month in the number of migrant children in border patrol custody, to 790 on Thursday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas said on Friday. Secretary of Homeland Security, in an interview. A month ago, 5,767 migrant children were in the custody of the border patrol.

And the length of stay of children in border cells has also decreased, averaging 28 hours in recent days, down from 133 hours a month ago. Federal law requires migrant children to be transferred out of border patrol custody within 72 hours. Mr Mayorkas said that on Friday there were as few as four children detained for more than this period.

“The progress that has been made is spectacular,” said Mayorkas. He attributes much of the success to the emergency shelters that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up in vacant facilities across the United States, including in convention centers in Dallas and San Diego, an exhibition center in San Antonio, a military site and a former camp. for oil workers in Texas.

Mr Mayorkas said additional employees from the department, including asylum officers, had been deployed to help the Ministry of Health and Human Services connect children with family members in the country.

The task of moving migrant children from detention centers, designed for adults, to more appropriate shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services has emerged as one of the first challenges of President Biden’s tenure. Due to a shelter shortage, the Biden administration had not been able to move the children within the three-day timeframe until recently.

The improvements were welcomed by the administration, but officials were realistic about the challenges ahead.

“Progress has been made,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, while acknowledging that the situation was far from resolved.

“There is still work to be done,” she said, adding that the administration was focusing on returning children from government custody to family members in the country or to temporary foster homes, a process that is also very time consuming.

This effort has seen a slight improvement over the past month, with 413 children released from government custody Thursday against 248 who were released a month earlier.

The border situation made it difficult for Mr. Biden to follow through on a campaign pledge to make America a more compassionate place for migrants, contrary to the harsh and restrictive policies of the Trump administration. The Biden administration has taken action to unwind former President Donald J. Trump’s restrictive agenda, including on Friday when it announced it had canceled border wall projects funded with Department of Defense funds . The move was widely anticipated after Mr Biden’s wall construction was suspended earlier this year.

But reports of migrant children forced to sleep on gymnastic mats with aluminum foil in overcrowded Border Patrol holding cells – often spending days without bathing – have failed to present the America promised by Mr. Biden. And Republicans have clung to what they call the border “crisis” as the main talking point against the president.

Immigration groups have criticized the Biden administration for continuing to use a public health emergency rule put in place by the Trump administration that allows officers to quickly return migrants to Mexico without giving them the opportunity to request the ‘asylum. The groups said the policy exposed asylum seekers to violence in Mexican regions like Juárez and Reynosa.

Avril Benoît, executive director of Médecins sans frontières, said in an open letter to the administration that the policy “is causing a humanitarian crisis across the border and in stark contrast to your stated values ​​and your goal of widening the channels of US”

Administration officials said they were still determined to use the rule to deny families crossing the border. Due to a new law in Mexico and lack of space in children’s shelters, the United States can no longer send many families with a child under the age of 7 across the border. An increasing number of families have also approached border entry points and received humanitarian exemptions from the rule.

By allowing migrant children who arrive at the border alone to enter the country, Mr. Biden has broken with part of the policy of the Trump administration. But authorities have had to scramble to find suitable shelter for the children, who are arriving in record numbers. More than 18,700 unaccompanied children and adolescents were taken into police custody in March after crossing the border, including entering ports, nearly double the approximately 9,450 minors detained in February. Mr Mayorkas said border officials are expected to have more apprehensions this year at the border than in the past two decades.

More than 22,500 children were in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services as of Thursday, up from 11,886 a month ago. Efforts to unite them with family members in the country have also been more successful.

“Ultimately, the process is a delicate balance between security and speed,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, director general of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said on Friday. These children, she said, deserve to be reunited with their families or released to a safe and loving home, a result that requires a thorough and tedious background check so that children, already traumatized, do not. suffer no more harm.

Most of the migrants arriving at the southwest border come from Central America and flee poverty, violence and natural disasters, including two back-to-back hurricanes that devastated parts of Honduras and Guatemala last fall.

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