Biden government officials said they had better control over the wave of migrant children that flooded detention centers on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Documents obtained by the New York Times, however, show that the problem has been moved to other facilities, such as the convention centers in Dallas, San Diego and Long Beach, Calif., Which are almost fully occupied due to a lack of funds for more spaces.
Migrant children are much better cared for in new facilities managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) than in crowded prisons under the command of Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security, officials said.
But Department of Health officials take an average of about a month to take children and teens out of government custody and put them in the care of a family member or sponsor in the United States.
The White House this week authorized the HHS to redirect $ 850 million (roughly R $ 4.6 billion) to child care, according to an internal document dated May 6. About $ 850 million more could be made available in the coming weeks. Before that transfer was completed, the government estimated it would need an additional $ 4 billion by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, according to the document.
In total, in the past week, more than 21,000 children were living in government-assisted shelters, leaving shelters about 80% complete. A shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, with a capacity of 2,270 children, has 1,990.
The 1,450 beds at the San Diego Convention Center are occupied. San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum gymnasium is nearing the 2,100 occupant limit, with just 90 seats, and announced on Friday (7) that it would stop accepting migrant children after this month. The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center is also fully booked, according to the document.
The report says that there is a shortfall of 366 million US dollars (2 billion reais) to cover expenses until this month, which “will escalate rapidly until July”. Officials predict that the cost for the entire 2021 fiscal year could exceed $ 8 billion.
Members of the Biden government have presented their response to the migrant epidemic as a victory for government logistics. In a matter of weeks, the administration managed to set up a dozen new facilities to house and care for these children who, in March and much of April, arrived by the thousands on their own and were forced to stay in crowded facilities with patrols in gymnasiums on gymnastic mats with aluminum covers, often without a bath.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to the border this week to visit the much less busy departmental facilities, which were originally intended to house adults caught trying to enter the country without the necessary documents. The department released “before and after” photos showing the progress made in transferring the children.
“We have revamped the process for dealing with unaccompanied children – their transfer to HHS shelters, which is their place,” Mayorkas said on Friday, when speaking with border patrol officers in Donna, Texas. . “A border patrol police station is no place for children.”
But the Biden government has yet to resolve one of the border system’s most worrying bottlenecks: quickly and safely releasing minors from shelters to select sponsors in the United States. The process is a balance between ensuring children are taken to safe situations and reducing the time they spend in government custody, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The Biden government has also said many sponsors are reluctant to apply to receive minors after a Trump-era program forced the Department of Health to share information about all adults in a child’s potential household. with the Immigration and Customs Police (ICE)). President Joe Biden canceled the program.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said the time spent in government detention had improved significantly, from an average of 42 days when Biden took office for around 30 days. As of Thursday, 775 children were released from government aid, about 300 more than they were last week. But border officials are signaling the need for more case managers to help release the children, while officials from other federal agencies have already been mobilized to fill the gaps.
Biden blames the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies for leaving his team ill-equipped to deal with the immigrant epidemic this spring. When migrants – mostly from Central America, fleeing poverty, violence and natural disasters – began arriving in large numbers at the southwest border, the government did not have sufficient and safe shelter for the children who arrived. alone.
“It’s politics. It’s not about substance or process. If the government needs money to manage the border, it should get it,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of policy and Borders at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “This is an emergency. It was neither planned nor on budget that they would have a record number of unaccompanied children.”
Democratic Congresswoman Nanette Barragán of California, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Border Security, visited the Long Beach Convention Center refuge on Friday and said the Biden government was providing minors with much health care facilities. more human in the premises of the department. was in the custody of the Border Patrol, where, according to her, the youths slept on mats on the ground and had no medical attention.
“We will take the children out of border patrol custody as soon as possible,” Barragán said in an interview after visiting the shelter, which had 728 migrant children, with space free for just 72 others. “In the care of the HHS, and even in the emergency centers, they have medical staff, they have beds, they have television, they have activities.”
Despite this, the MP said she was “concerned” by data showing that the program will need more money in the months to come.
And sheltering migrant children isn’t the only challenge the Biden government faces at the border.
The United States has also allowed a growing number of migrant families to enter the country due to new barriers to family housing in Mexico. As a result, the US government struggled to find space for them and decided to shelter them in hotels before releasing their entry into the country.
The government is expected to increase the number of hotels with migrant families this weekend, according to an internal security official, a sign that migrant flows could increase in the near future.