Migrant Children Moved To Emergency Shelters; Challenges Remain : NPR

Unaccompanied minors wait to be dealt with by U.S. border guards near the U.S.-Mexico border in La Joya, Texas on April 10. Biden’s government faces major challenges as it addresses the record-breaking increase in unaccompanied minors. John Moore / Getty Images hide subtitles

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Unaccompanied minors wait to be dealt with by U.S. border guards near the U.S.-Mexico border in La Joya, Texas on April 10. Biden’s government faces major challenges as it addresses the record-breaking increase in unaccompanied minors.

John Moore / Getty Images

The Biden government has endeavored every day to care for hundreds of immigrant children and youth who cross the southern border alone. It has opened a dozen shelters and removed thousands from prison-like cells and tents that have fueled public outrage.

However, the administration faces major challenges the record breaking wave of unaccompanied minors.

The number of immigrant teenagers and children in the care of U.S. Customs and Border Protection fell to 2,853 this week – less than half the number held in overcrowded facilities near the border in late March. Another 19,000 unaccompanied minors were in the care of US Health and Human Services on Tuesday, according to the agency.

According to the law, these children should be taken into HHS custody within three days. In practice, this has not happened, partly due to the lack of available space in HHS ‘permanent protection system.

This bottleneck could gradually subside. In the past few weeks, HHS has been adding shelters wherever possible – from abandoned oil workers’ camps to large convention centers in Texas and California to smaller facilities far away from the Michigan and Pennsylvania borders.

Overall, the agency has added temporary facilities that can potentially accommodate more than 16,000 children until they can be placed in long-term accommodation or with U.S. sponsors or relatives

According to the latest statistics, more than 400 migrant children now arrive at the border every day. Earlier this week, about 100 of them were sent to their new makeshift homes – rustic cottages near a private lake in southern Michigan.

“We’re excited to be able to create these beautiful spaces and a place of healing for some of these children,” says Elizabeth Carey, CEO of Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit with a long history of working with at risk Children on their campus in Albion, Michigan.

The organization hosts a temporary refuge for up to 240 migrant children between the ages of 5 and 17.

“When asked by our federal government whether we could help these children and provide them with a safe haven and haven, we enthusiastically said yes,” Carey said in a statement.

But HSS still has some delicate problems to solve, starting with hiring enough staff to operate these shelters, some of which are designed for thousands of migrant children.

“That’s a big part of the challenge they faced,” says Mark Greenberg, former director of HHS Administration for Children and Families, the agency that operates the accommodations.

“It can be very, very difficult to find suitable, trained and appropriate staff quickly,” says Greenberg, who now works at the non-profit Institute for Migration Policy.

Another part of the challenge is political.

Republican governors in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and South Carolina have all denied HHS requests to find vacant space in their state care systems for the migrant children.

And Republican governors along the U.S.-Mexico border argue that the Biden administration invited the recent influx of children by lifting Trump-era restrictions with no plan in place to deal with the aftermath.

Texas governor Greg Abbott also said last week that state officials had received complaints about an emergency shelter in San Antonio – including allegations of child sexual assault.

“In short, this facility is a health and safety nightmare,” Abbott said at a news conference last week. “The Biden administration must close this facility immediately.”

HHS says it is thoroughly investigating all allegations of abuse.

“HHS has a zero tolerance policy in all facilities for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behavior,” the agency said in a statement.

“We will continue to investigate all incidents that affect the health, well-being and safety of children and take the correct action, including disciplinary action against employees, dismissal and reporting to appropriate investigative bodies such as law enforcement and relevant licensing authorities . “

Democrats have criticized Abbott for politicizing the plight of migrant children. They counter that it was the Trump administration that left HHS unprepared – by shrinking the long-term protection system last year when most migrants, including children, were turned away because of the pandemic.

Washington MP Pramila Jayapal says the Biden administration is doing the best it can, given the circumstances.

“Unlike the Trump administration, they don’t send children back. They don’t put children in cages. They try to process them quickly,” Jayapal said in an interview.

But Jayapal and other progressives also don’t like large havens because emergency facilities aren’t required to meet state standards for care.

Jayapal and other Democratic lawmakers signed a letter This week the Biden government is being asked to come up with a better long-term plan to keep this from happening again.

“We need to ensure that we address some of the long-standing issues related to the quality of conditions for these children,” said Jayapal, “so that we no longer need inflow facilities in the future.”

In the meantime, these shelters will likely be needed for the coming months.

While the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has fallen somewhat after a record march, it is too early to say whether this is the beginning of a downward trend or just a temporary decline.


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