The Biden administration is deploying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to aid in the processing of immigrant children at the southern border as a surge in crossings has led to them being held for prolonged periods in overcrowded facilities.
FEMA will be deployed for the next 90 days, Homeland Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday. They will help to “safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southwest border,” the statement said.
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“I am incredibly proud of the agents of the Border Patrol, who have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care,” Mayorkas said. “Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child.”
Record-high numbers of children have been crossing the border in recent months. Almost 9,500 entered into U.S. custody in February, and upwards of 7,000 have been transferred to a U.S. refugee agency. And some Customs and Border Patrol facilities are being stretched beyond their limits, leading to crowded and less than sanitary conditions, where soap is not always available. One CBP facility in Donna, Texas, reached 729 percent of its pandemic capacity this month. And, according to a National Center for Youth Law attorney, a “staggering amount” of those who are detained at that facility were “very young children.”
Because of the overcrowding, CBP has struggled to process migrant children in a timely manner, with many children staying beyond the agency’s three-day limit for detentions. That is why the Biden administration is bringing FEMA onboard.
Adults, however, according to Mayorkas, will still be turned away at the border: “As a result of the public health imperative, adults and accompanied children are subject to COVID-19 related travel restrictions and are returned to Mexico under the statutory authority of the CDC.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Biden’s decision to deploy FEMA, saying in an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, “This is a humanitarian challenge to all of us. What the administration has inherited is a broken system at the border and they are working to correct that in the children’s interest.”
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