Children who have been separated from their families for weeks are now being held in federal facilities by the Biden administration, despite the fact that immigrant advocates and lawyers had hoped the new administration would address the issue by now.
Officials in the Biden administration have indicated that they are shifting away from Trump administration policies that they believe are inhumane toward migrants, especially children. However, as federal agents deal with an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children at the US-Mexico border, what to do with children who are accompanied by an adult who is not their parent is becoming a growing concern.
Migrant children are often accompanied by a grandparent, older sibling, or other relative, but they are separated before federal officials can confirm that the accompanying adult is their relative, as required by US law. The practice, which differs from the deeply divisive Trump administration policy of separating immigrant parents from their children, is intended to safeguard minors from human trafficking and provide them with legal protections.
However, it designates the children as “unaccompanied minors” and positions them in federal shelters before a sponsor or adult is found, which can take weeks or months.
Separating children from close relatives, though not as dramatic as the Trump administration’s family separations, which sparked outrage, may be just as harmful, according to Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a legal advocacy organization that serves immigrant youth.
“It really does look and sound like a parent-child split in several respects,” Koop said. “The separation trauma is quite close.”
President Joe Biden’s first big immigration challenge is quickly becoming an increasing influx of unaccompanied children at the border. According to agency figures, more than 4,000 migrant children were transferred to the care of the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement in January, up from 3,330 in December and almost four times the number who arrived in October.
Even as the number of minors at the border continues to rise, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated Friday that the Biden administration plans to take a different approach to handling the children than former President Donald Trump did.
“We’re going to forge our own course,” she declared. “This involves treating children with humanity and reverence, as well as maintaining their safety as they travel across our borders.”
However, finding a place to house all of the children as they await immigration proceedings remains a difficult task. According to figures, the resettlement agency controls about 7,000 beds for minors due to decreased availability due to COVID-19 limitations, and it had about 7,700 migrant children in its care this week. Some of the overcrowding children were being held in at least one “Influx Care Facility,” or makeshift shelter, with no oversight from the state.
224 of the children were being housed by federal authorities at a temporary shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which has been criticized by advocates due to its remote location and lack of routine inspections. After the Trump administration received backlash for inadequate conditions at a variety of temporary shelters housing unaccompanied minors, the 700-bed facility was closed in July 2019. Last week, Biden reopened the facility.