The Biden administration is building two more emergency intake centers, totaling over 5,000 beds, to house migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border alone.
It’s the administration’s newest attempt to relieve overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities by transferring unaccompanied minors that have been kept in facilities that resemble jails for lengthy periods of time.
The Department of Health and Human Services is working with the Department of Defense to use property on Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, and Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, with a total capacity of up to 5,000 beds and about 350 beds, respectively.
The Defense Department reported on Wednesday that it had accepted a proposal from the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at two military bases in Texas.
“This support will be on a fully-reimbursable basis, and will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness. HHS will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Officials have been racing to find shelter space for the increasing number of migrant children arriving at the US-Mexico border in recent weeks. After being brought into Border Patrol custody, children are expected to be handed over to HHS, which is in charge of migrant children’s care.
HHS is in charge of an extensive shelter network where those children are housed before they can be reunited with sponsors in the United States, such as parents or friends. However, the administration has struggled to transfer unaccompanied children out of border facilities intended for adults and into HHS treatment within the 72-hour legal limit due to Covid-19 restrictions and the increased speed of arrivals.
According to government statistics, 4,962 children were in custody of Customs and Border Control on Tuesday, and 11,551 children were in the custody of Health and Human Services. A group of White House officials and members of Congress visited a facility housing unaccompanied migrant children in Texas on Wednesday, followed by a news camera, under mounting pressure to provide access to facilities. The Carrizo Springs, Texas, facility is an example of the kinds of shelters that the administration has been scrambling to locate for children. Health services, sleeping quarters, and other support are available at these HHS-managed facilities.
“We have, and our office has been working, to build capacity but with Covid and the distancing related to Covid, that capacity was reduced by 40%. From the start, we were working under very constrained conditions,” Cindy Huang, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency under HHS, told the pool reporter traveling with the delegation.
“This administration started on January 20 and from day one has been mobilizing an inter-agency solution,” she added.
Part of the initiative is the activation of the two military sites. The Biden administration is also planning to use three convention centers in Dallas, San Antonio, and San Diego, as well as a Midland, Texas, emergency intake site and two other influx sites in Pecos, Texas, and Carrizo Springs, Texas.