Migrant children in US custody triples in 2 weeks, but WH doesn't see it as 'crisis': 'No need of new labels'
President Joe Biden has pledged to restore normalcy as far as the immigration struggle at the border is concerned, but in reality, his administration is facing a massive logistical and humanitarian struggle. The number of unaccompanied children at the Border Patrol custody has become too high and with shelter beds becoming scarce, a worse humanitarian crisis is looming at the US’s southern border.
According to The New York Times which cited internal documents of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of detained children had “tripled in the last two week”. NBC News cited a couple of sources to say that more than 3,200 unaccompanied children are being housed in CBP holding facilities.
Nearly half of them —1,400 — have been held for more than the legal limit of three days and they are kept in the CBP holding cells or “hieleras” that are not designed for children. They are small rooms made of concrete with concrete or metal benches and no beds. It has also been reported that nearly 170 of those unaccompanied children are aged below 13. NBC News also reviewed government data that showed the total number of unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the border in February increasing to about 9,000.
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White House doesn't see the situation as 'crisis'
However, the White House was still not ready to call the situation a ‘crisis’. On Tuesday, March 9, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a daily press briefing, “I don’t think we need to put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging.”
Attributing the problem to challenges of processing unaccompanied kids at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, Psaki said, “One of the issues we’ve had is that the Covid-19 pandemic initially severely limited the number of children that could be taken into HHS facilities and the pace at which they can happen and the pace at which that can happen. What I also think is important is to talk about what the root causes are here and what we're doing from a policy standpoint to try and address the challenges that we're facing and that these kids are facing as they come across the border.”
Homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also refused to see the situation as a crisis.
On Monday, March 8, Mayorkas asked his department staff to volunteer to help in dealing with the “overwhelming” number of migrants at the border, Fox News reported. In an email to his staff members seen by Fox, Mayorkas said, “Today, I activated the Volunteer Force to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as they face a surge in migration along the Southwest Border.”
“You have likely seen the news about the overwhelming numbers of migrants seeking access to this country along the Southwest Border,” Mayorkas said, adding, “President Biden and I are committed to ensuring our nation has a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system while continuing to balance all of the other critical DHS missions.”
The volunteers will be used in a non-law enforcement capacity with responsibilities like managing property, making meals, seeing supply runs, housekeeping, and assisting in control rooms, among others.
Policy has consequences, says Liz Cheney
Republicans, who found themselves under attack over the treatment of children in the previous Donald Trump administration, have now blasted the Biden administration. Liz Cheney, House GOP Conference Chair, who has come under a fierce attack from her own party for supporting Trump's impeachment, said, “Policy has consequences. When you say that you’re not going to enforce our immigration laws, when you say that you’re not going to build a border wall, it has consequences. And we’re seeing the tragic consequences of that right now.”
The Biden administration has been accused of curbing the press’s freedom by banning reporters from visiting juvenile detention facilities accommodating unaccompanied minors who came across the US-Mexico border for asylum. It was said on the administration’s behalf that reporters will not be allowed inside the Carrizo Springs facility for unaccompanied minors that the former recently reopened in Texas.
The influx of the minor unaccompanied migrants at border facilities is partly due to the Biden administration's reversal of a Trump-era policy that expelled unaccompanied migrant children, along with other migrants, under provisions invoked during the pandemic.