Five months into President Joe Biden’s time in office, the surge of unaccompanied children coming across the southern border shows no signs of slowing.
The number of children traveling to the United States’s southern border has increased over the past week, suggesting a summertime wave may be on the horizon. More than 500 children were encountered daily by Border Patrol through much of March and April. After that, the number of daily arrivals dipped below 300, but it has increased again to top 530 on June 23.
Nearly 15,000 children are being held at government facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the most recent data released June 25. Approximately 2,000 more children were either found at the border, transferred from Border Patrol to HHS, or released into the country that day.
Under previous administrations, children might be held in Border Patrol’s jail-like facilities for days or weeks. But because children are being transferred to HHS within 24 hours, immigrant advocates are not upset with the Biden administration — a key reason there has been less uproar despite the record-high number of children.
While the Biden administration has improved how quickly children are taken out of Border Patrol’s jail-like stations and placed into HHS-run outdoor tents or convention centers nationwide, the government is still detaining children for approximately one month. During that time, government workers search for an adult in the U.S. to release the child to. If no parent or close relative can be found, the child will be discharged to a family friend or other adult, or placed in childcare programs.
But the surge of children to the border that began in March has not been resolved. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Monday visited the Army’s Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, at an emergency facility where children are detained. The government appears to be struggling to even detain those it is charged with holding. The Fort Bliss facility has been accused of holding children in conditions so poor that some children have attempted suicide.
In an effort to speed up releases, the Biden administration lowered the standard for selecting adult sponsors so it can release more children from Border Patrol and keep up with the flow of children arriving. For example, adults who claim children are no longer fingerprinted, as the Trump administration had required. At least 38,000 children have been released to adult sponsors in the country since February, and the 15,000 in HHS custody has dropped from 25,000 in May.
Sen. Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner changes like how the Biden administration has made it easier for adults to claim children is “encouraging” children to travel to the U.S. and placing them in a “dangerous” situation.
“The Administration is reducing critical protections for unaccompanied children in an effort to expedite processing and place them with sponsors,” said Portman, an Ohioan, in a statement. “The Biden Administration should require fingerprinting and criminal background checks of potential sponsors and all adults in the household and home visits, as well as notify state governments before placing children in those states.”
The continued uptick in arrivals of unaccompanied children followed the Biden administration’s decision in January to stop returning unaccompanied children to Mexico, as was the policy in the final 10 months of the Trump administration. Children were sent back to their home countries to avoid filling government immigration facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat, called on the administration to turn away teenagers, but the government has not budged.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s immigration and cross-border policy director, Theresa Cardinal Brown, said the Biden administration is pursuing a long-term solution for children and adults to seek asylum at the border, but because of this surge, the government was forced to spend the first three months of the year responding to the uptick in children, families, and adults.
“The day to day is not really something we can control,” Brown said, referring to the arrival of migrants. “It’s the migrants themselves that decide when they’re going to come.”
Children released into the U.S. will face immigration proceedings, likely not for years down the road due to the 1.1 million case backlog.
Author : Anna Giaritelli