Houston – The administration of President Joe Biden has directed immigrant children’s long-term detention facilities to lift space restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic to make beds more available in a system facing increasing need.
In a memorandum issued Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asked service providers to “temporarily increase their capacity to the maximum authorized … while continuing to implement and observe strict mitigation measures. of COVID-19 “.
It is not currently known how many beds will be available in addition to the 7,000 that existed last month. The maximum capacity authorized by HHS surpassed 13,000 beds at the end of last year.RELATED
Some facilities halved their capacity during the pandemic. Meanwhile, hundreds of minors waiting to be placed in the HHS system continue to be detained by the Border Patrol in tents or large, cold cells lacking what is necessary to house them. Images and reports related to overcrowded Border Patrol cells sparked outrage in 2018 and 2019, including accounts of families and children left on their own without adequate food or water supplies.
Ending the quota imposed by the pandemic could increase the danger of the coronavirus spreading in HHS facilities, especially as more minors enter the system. However, HHS facilities management organizations and some activists propose making more beds available if done safely, rather than the alternative of keeping children in Border Patrol facilities longer or placing them in expensive facilities. emergency lacking permits.
“Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no 0% risk scenario, particularly in congregational settings,” reads the memo, which CNN was the first to report. “Therefore, the facilities of the Office of Refugee Resettlement must have plans in place and await cases of COVID-19.”
HHS has previously authorized facility operators to collect travel expenses from the government when a minor is released to a relative or other sponsor. Some families cannot easily pay hundreds of dollars to fly a minor and guardian, and sometimes the dispute over that payment can delay the minor’s release by several days.
Currently, agents detain about 400 minors unaccompanied by a parent or guardian each day, a sharp increase from last month. There is concern that those numbers will continue to rise.
Biden ended former President Donald Trump’s government practice of expelling children traveling alone based on a public health declaration enacted during the pandemic, although his administration continues to deport immigrant families and adults. Some former Trump officials have accused Biden of encouraging immigrants to try to enter the United States illegally, although the numbers recorded with Biden do not reach the highest figures for the Trump administration.
The practice of deporting minors was highly criticized and they were often returned to dangerous situations without being given the opportunity to apply for asylum or speak to a lawyer. The Associated Press has reported that the public health statement was issued at the urging of former Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump issued a statement on Friday saying that “the border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden.”
“We received no legal advice or advice from former President Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane, but ineffective for the past four years,” replied White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We are going to chart our own route, and that includes treating children with humanity and respect, and ensuring that they are safe when they cross our borders.”
In recent days, Biden has also come under fire from Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other Republicans for freeing immigrant families in the south of the state. Border authorities suspended the expulsion of families with young children from some Texas cities due to a policy change in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. In several cities, local governments and activist groups test released families for COVID-19 and send those who are infected to shelters or hotel rooms prepared specifically for them.