The Biden administration deployed FEMA to the Southern border on Saturday to assist with the care of unaccompanied minors arriving in record numbers in recent weeks.
Following the end of the Trump administration and the reversal of its immigration policies, officials at the US-Mexico border have seen what DHS has said is a record surge of unaccompanied minors arriving from primarily Central American countries. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged on Saturday that the number of migrant children being detained currently is at a record high, with over 3,000 minors in custody last week awaiting processing. DHS has deployed FEMA agents to the border facilities to assist in expediting the processing and provide better care for the minors.
In response to the influx, 7,500 minors were transferred to FEMA, which has been using its network of shelters across Texas to house them. The agency is scrambling to find more beds for the minors, as before the recent surge shelters were employing COVID-19 safety measures like extra spacing. Those measures have been forced to scale back as shelter and care for the unaccompanied minors emerges as a priority. DHS has attributed the surge in unaccompanied minors to several factors in addition to President Biden’s policy changes, including back-to-back hurricanes that hit Central America last year and left the region facing food scarcity, poverty and violence.
While the recent uptick has been significant, there has been a 20-month steady increase in the number of migrants arriving at the border, according to a CNN interview with congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents Texas’ 16th district including el Paso, which has been heavily impacted by the influx of migrants. Escobar acknowledged that the conditions in which the minors are being held are “despicable” but also noted that “the flow of humanity never stopped” at the Southern border over the past 20 months, and the increasingly urgent situation at the border “is not a result of Joe Biden becoming president.”
Republicans have argued that Biden’s policy changes are directly to blame for the dire conditions at the border. Rep. John Katko, a Republican from New York, released a statement over the weekend in response to FEMA’s assistance at the border, saying “If FEMA is involved, it’s a disaster by definition.” While FEMA’s assistance is vital to improving the border conditions, the agency is currently only able to provide logistical help. Governor Greg Abbott, who has publicly blasted Biden’s immigration policy, would have to approve the release of FEMA funding to aid in the escalating border problem.
Over 9,500 minors arrived at the Southern border in February alone, in spite of the Biden administration’s warnings that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time for migrants to travel to the US border. “A Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the agency’s statement. “We are working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves.”
Homeland Security has asked that employees volunteer to go to the border facilities to help care for the unaccompanied minors, who, according to HHS and DHS are mostly between the ages of 15-17, but also include some under 6. The Biden administration has thus far stopped short of calling the situation a crisis, and Press Secretary Jen Psaki pledged in a press briefing on Sunday.that the administration is working to get as many minors to their sponsors – usually a relative or parent already living in the US – as quickly as possible, and hopes the added help of FEMA and HHS will effectively speed up the process.
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ARTICLE: LAURA SPIVAK
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: VOX