Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Saturday that he has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support a “government-wide effort” to house child migrants — as numbers continue to spike.
The agency will support the effort to “safely receive, shelter and transfer unaccompanied children” attempting to get into the United States. It noted there has been a “record number of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border.”
“I am grateful for the exceptional talent and responsiveness of the FEMA team,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “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. Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child.”
“We are working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves,” he said. “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.”
DHS said that FEMA “is now integrated and co-located with HHS to look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging.”
Rep. John Katko, ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said that it was a sign that there was a crisis at the border — something the administration has so far refused to call it.
“By doing that they’re admitting there is a crisis even though they won’t say it,” he said on “Fox Report.”
He accused the agency of “peeling away” resources that could be used to combating the coronavirus pandemic, such as vaccine distribution, to focus on the border surge.
“This is outrageous,” he said.
It is the latest move by the administration to cope with a dramatic increase in migrants — including unaccompanied children — in recent weeks. While it has noted that many of those migrants can be returned by Title 42 public health protections, child migrants cannot.
CBP encountered 100,441 individuals in February, a 28 percent increase over January, the agency said. Of those, 19,246 individuals were in family units; 9,457 were unaccompanied children (UACs) and 71,598 were single adults.
The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250. Meanwhile, it has been opening more facilities, including looking at using a Virginia military base and a NASA facility – and ending capacity limits due to COVID-19 in order to cope with the spike in child migrants.
Republicans and immigration hawks have blamed Biden policies for encouraging the surge — particularly his rollback of Trump-era border protections like the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and asylum cooperative agreements with Northern Triangle countries, as well as his call for paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
“The Biden administration isn’t addressing a crisis, they’re exacerbating it,” the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) director of government relations, RJ Hauman, said in a statement. “This is yet another message that will be heard loud and clear by human smugglers and everyone in Central America — keep coming to our southern border, things will run smoothly once you get here.”
Mayorkas has put out a call for DHS staff to volunteer to help CBP, calling the numbers “overwhelming.” Meanwhile, acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said this week that “we continue to struggle with the number of individuals in our custody, especially in a pandemic.”
But the administration has doggedly refused to call it a crisis, with Mayorkas a week earlier calling it only a “challenge.”
It kept up that stance this week, with multiple officials refusing to say the “crisis” word.
“You know, I think the…I’m not trying to be cute here, but I think the fact of the matter is: We have to do what we do regardless of what anybody calls the situation,” Roberta Jacobson, coordinator for the southern border, said in a press briefing Wednesday.
“And the fact is, we are all focused on improving the situation, on changing to a more humane and efficient system. And whatever you call it wouldn’t change what we’re doing because we have urgency, from the President on down, to fix our system and make sure that we are better at dealing with the hopes and the dreams of these migrants in their home country,” she said.