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Biden says influx of migrants at the border is nothing new

In his first press conference since taking office, President Biden claimed “nothing has changed” compared to earlier influxes of migrants and unaccompanied children at the border. 

Immigration surge “happens every year”

For the past decade the immigration issue has been a topic of focus. As the humanitarian emergency at the border continues, many are calling into question what the Biden Administration will do to address the issue which has persisted for too long. Others are criticizing President Biden for lack of inaction as numbers surge and questioning whether his new policies are contributing to the increased numbers. 

However, President Biden has said that the influx of migrants is nothing new. “It happens every single, solitary year,” he said at Thursday’s press conference. “There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”

While it is true that the numbers are usually higher in the early months of the year, the current number of unaccompanied children arriving today is much higher than that of 2019 or 2020. 

This past February there were 9,297 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border. This is a 30% increase from 2019 when the last major surge occurred but still below the peaks of 11,000 unaccompanied children in May of 2019 and 10,000 in June of 2014. However, these records are likely to be broken this year according to experts. 

Over the past 30 days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended an average of 5,000 undocumented immigrants per day–about 500 of which are unaccompanied children. The current influx is said to be different than previous years, with officials citing larger numbers of unaccompanied children and families. 

Influx of unaccompanied children leaves them without appropriate shelter

The influx of migrant children has also led to issues with housing them in appropriate shelters. Unable to open child shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services fast enough to accommodate everyone, many children are being forced to remain at holding facilities along the border.

As of this past Wednesday, more than 5,000 migrant children and teens were stuck in Border Patrol facilities awaiting beds in child shelters.

“Unfortunately, on any given day, we may have upwards of 9,000 people in custody, which certainly puts a strain on our resources,” a Border Patrol official stated.

The Biden administration is working with other agencies to find more bed space, using places like the San Diego Convention Center to hold unaccompanied minors so they’re not sleeping in cells as they await more permanent shelter.

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In the long term, the Biden administration plans to deal more directly with issues in Central America that have contributed to the influx in migration. These plans include developing more legal avenues for migrants to seek asylum. President Biden has also just sent three top officials to Mexico and Guatemala as part of efforts to tackle the root causes of migration, which Vice President Harris has been tasked with leading. 

The issues at the border are nothing new, but the influx of migrants and unaccompanied children is indicative of greater humanitarian issues. From poverty and corruption to widespread unemployment due to the pandemic, addressing these underlying issues will be central to addressing the immigration issue.

FEMA to help shelter influx of migrant children at the border

Roughly 4,000 young migrants were in Customs and Border Protection facilities this week, more than the 2,600 children and teenagers held in such detention facilities in June 2019. In February,  9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

The Biden administration so far has not been able to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, and has recently directed the shelters to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in processing the increasing number of young migrants as criticism mounts over their treatment in detention facilities.

FEMA will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.

Additionally, the Homeland Security Department has been asked to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.

The Health and Human Services Department also opened a temporary facility for the children and teenagers on Sunday in Midland, Texas, to help migrants out of the border facilities, according to Mark Weber, a spokesman for the agency. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans have characterized the increase in border crossings as a direct result of Mr. Biden’s goal to roll back President Donald J. Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.“They express surprise and shock about the fact that they are overwhelmed, when the Border Patrol and really everybody here in Texas has known that this is coming,” Mr. Abbott said.

However, President Biden has kept a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule that empowers border agents to rapidly turn away migrants at the border, with the exception of unaccompanied minors.

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

Officials from the Health and Human Services Department have also been placed at border facilities in an attempt to find sponsors for migrant children faster. 

Last week, the administration rescinded a 2018 agreement that allowed the agency to share certain information about sponsors for the children with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration advocates said the agreement discouraged relatives of the youths from stepping forward to sponsor them, creating a backlog in the system.

Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”

“A Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement on Saturday. “Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to H.H.S. as quickly as possible.”