The Biden administration is opening new emergency shelters to handle the increasing number of young immigrants illegally crossing the border without their parents, people familiar with the plans said.
The move comes amid growing concern about treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children being temporarily housed in crowded Border Patrol stations and continuing criticism from Republican lawmakers that the Biden administration’s more lenient border-enforcement policies are effectively enticing migrants to cross the border illegally.
One temporary shelter overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services opened Sunday in Midland, Texas, and another one is expected to open as early as this week in a convention center in Dallas. The facilities are intended to house thousands of children before they are transferred to more permanent shelters or reunited with parents or other relatives already in the U.S., the people said. Previously an emergency shelter for teenage immigrants was opened in a former encampment for oil-field workers in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and that facility is expected to stay open.
The government is also expected to soon open a tent facility to process and temporarily hold migrants, including children, near Tucson, Ariz., according to Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus. Chief Magnus was among a group of local police officials briefed by the White House Monday on plans to manage the increasing flow of migrants at the border.
More than 29,000 immigrant children have been caught crossing the border illegally since Oct. 1, the start of the budget year. During the entire 2020 budget year about 30,000 children crossed the border without their families. Last month alone, 9,297 children were taken into custody, an increase of 63% over January’s numbers.
The surge in arrivals of migrant children has been accompanied by one involving families—nearly 19,000 people traveling as families were arrested at the border in February, compared with about 7,000 in January. Those numbers have quickly strained immigration and humanitarian resources at the border. Groups of 100 or more families and children crossing the border and surrendering to border agents have again become routine, in scenes reminiscent of the 2019 migrant crisis.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has started to fly some migrants from South Texas to El Paso, where they are processed and face being turned back to Mexico under a Trump-era pandemic policy to help stem the spread of Covid-19. Some families are being released in the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas nearer where government-run shelters in Mexico are at capacity. Mexican migration officials there decline to let the U.S. government return some families who have crossed the border but aren’t from Mexico.
Republican lawmakers have blamed the latest border crisis on President Biden’s overhaul of the Trump administration’s strict enforcement policies.
“It’s more than a crisis; it’s a human heartbreak,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said during a visit to the border near El Paso Monday. “The sad part about that is this didn’t have to happen. This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”
The Biden administration has pointed to other causes for the surge, including poverty, corruption and violence, and has cited a steady rise in illegal border crossings that started late last spring. The White House has been reluctant to describe the situation at the border as a crisis, but the administration last week did activate the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help border officials manage the situation.
White House press secretary
said at a Monday briefing that conditions at some border facilities were “heartbreaking” and “not acceptable,” but said the administration had a handle on the problem. She chided critics for not offering solutions.
Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com
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Appeared in the March 16, 2021, print edition as ‘U.S. Sets Up New Shelters for Migrant Minors.’
Source: WSJ – US News