Even as he’s working to improve immigration policies left over from the outgoing Trump administration, the issue of children crossing the border and entering the U.S. illegally looks to be an ongoing problematic issue for President Biden. The 4,700 children currently being cared for by government officials is well below the peak of 14,000 children detained in 2019 when Trump’s child separation policies were at their peak, but it’s also nearly double the number held compared to just a few months ago.
CNN has reported that in the past few weeks, there has been a significant “increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied children on the Southwest border, fueled in part by deteriorating conditions in Latin America and a perceived possible relaxation of enforcement.”
According to reporter Priscilla Alvarez, “unaccompanied children who cross the border are taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security and referred to [the Department of Health and Human Services], though a Trump-era policy also makes them subject to expulsion.” She added that “if placed in care, case managers work to place a child with a sponsor in the United States, like a parent or relative.”
A White House spokesperson told Alvarez that “it’s not this administration’s policy to expel children apprehended at the border, a departure from the Trump administration’s posture.” Instead, “the Border Patrol will continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement so they may be properly cared for in appropriate shelters, consistent with their best interest.”
In addition to highlighting the ongoing need for immediate immigration reform, the new influx of migrant children into the country (combined with COVID-19 restrictions on capacity placed at existing government shelters) is driving the need to open more centers where these children can be housed until better government processes can be enacted.
Stef W. Kight from Axios has reported that multiple Biden administration officials have confirmed plans to re-open “an overflow shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which could house another 700 children in its main building under COVID-19 precautions.”
As we reported back in 2019, the Carrizo Springs detention center in Texas, which opened in response to the squalid conditions that migrant children were getting subjected to after being detained by Border Patrol during Trump’s presidency, closed unexpectedly after less than a month of operations.
“Temporary shelters are controversial because they aren’t subject to the same state licensing and monitoring of the long-term facilities,” Kight reported.
She added that while Trump and Biden’s goals and policies relating to immigration obviously differ greatly, both administrations ultimately face a similar challenge: “when apprehensions rise and space runs out, the options are limited.”
Children being housed in the Carrizo Springs facility when it reopens will receive education, medical and mental health care and all of the other services that they would in other shelters. They will also be given socially distanced sleeping areas and must quarantine for two weeks prior to entering the center, in an attempt to limit possible COVID-19 spread.
“HHS is mindful of these children’s vulnerability, and our priority is the safety and well-being of each child in our care,” the agency said in a statement, according to the NY Post. “HHS anticipates the need to start placing children at Carrizo Springs in 15 days or soon after.”
HHS has reported that in 2020, 46% of child migrants entering the U.S. from its southern border came from Guatemala, 14% came from El Salvador, and 25% were originally from Honduras.