Biden administration eyes new housing facilities for migrant children

The White House said Tuesday that it’s looking at new facilities to house the unaccompanied children who have arrived by the thousands in recent weeks at the southern border as the Biden administration scrambles to deal with the growing migrant crisis.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is scouting new facilities that would enable the administration to move thousands of children out of temporary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities and into housing managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where children would have access to education, health care and legal services.

“We’re looking at additional facilities where we can safely house children and ensure they have access to all of these resources,” Psaki said.

“We don’t want them to be in the CBP facilities,” she added. “We want them to be in shelters as quickly as possible and ultimately in families and homes where their applications can be processed. But we’re looking to expedite the way we vet families and sponsor homes as well.”

CBS News reported Tuesday that more than 3,200 children are currently stuck in Border Patrol cells that are meant to temporarily house adult migrants, with nearly half of those children having exceeded the agency’s three-day deadline to be moved into a proper children’s shelter.

According to government documents obtained by CBS, nearly 1,400 unaccompanied minors have been kept in CBP holding facilities for longer than 72 hours, up from only nine children in late February.

CBS said 8,100 unaccompanied minors are in U.S. custody as agents scramble to deal with the surge of immigrants and limited housing capacity due to social distancing measures implemented around the pandemic.

Psaki on multiple occasions declined to confirm CBS’s reported numbers. She also would not confirm reports that the administration is looking at bringing new facilities online at military bases in Virginia or Florida.

However, the White House said Tuesday that new COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would allow more children to be housed at HHS-run facilities, opening up additional space that could facilitate some transfers out of the CBP holding areas.

“We want to have more kids able to transfer from CBP facilities to HHS facilities, so the CDC guidelines helped us ensure there are more kids able to have safely in these facilities,” Psaki said. “But also we’re looking at [additional] facilities, but no decisions have been made at this point.”

The Biden administration is rushing to address the growing surge of migrants as refugees from Central America make the dangerous journey to the southern border to escape economic hardship, natural disasters and political turbulence at home.

The administration says that most adult migrants will be turned away.

“We are continuing to work to convey to the people in the region that this is not the time to come, that the majority of the people who come to the border will be turned away,” Psaki said.

“The people who are being let in are unaccompanied children,” she added. “That was a policy decision we made because we felt it was the most humane approach to addressing what are very difficult circumstances in the region, and that means there are more children, kids under the age of 18, coming across the border.”

Tags Border crisis Coronavirus COVID-19 Immigration Jen Psaki
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