The Biden administration will send federal help to manage and care for the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border has increased this year.
The administration, which has prioritized reversing the immigration policies of Donald Trump, announced the move late Saturday to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).
It is facing a challenge to respond to increased numbers of unaccompanied children at the border – 9,457 of whom were taken into US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody in February, the most since May 2019.
Fema will support a government wide effort over the next three months to safely receive, shelter and transfer minor children who arrive alone at the US south-west border, without a parent or other adult, the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas said on Saturday.
The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to process and transfer unaccompanied minor children to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within three days so that they can be placed with a parent already living in the United States, or other suitable sponsor, until their immigration cases can be resolved.
But more children are being held longer at border patrol facilities that weren’t designed with their care in mind because long-term shelters run by HHS have next to no capacity to accommodate them. Children are being apprehended daily at far higher rates than HHS can release them to parents or sponsors.
Mayorkas said Fema is working with HHS to “look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging”.
“Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children,” Mayorkas said.
During a record influx of unaccompanied minors in 2014, the Obama administration also turned to Fema for help coordinating the governmentwide response. During that crisis, Fema helped stand up temporary shelters and processing stations on military bases.
President Joe Biden has ended the Trump-era practice of expelling immigrant children who cross the border alone, but maintained expulsions of immigrant families and single adults.
Associated Press contributed to this report