WASHINGTON – Frustrated arguments erupted this week in the email inboxes of employees at government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and NASA: Are you considering paying four months out of your job to help care for migrant children in government-run shelters? do? Packed with new arrivals at the border?
Much of the federal task force’s request came from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is at the heart of a frenzied effort by the Biden administration in hopes of reuniting with relatives with young people crossing the southwestern border. Already in the United States.
The number is difficult. In March, border agents confronted about 19,000 children at the border – the largest number recorded in a single month – most of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. And the flow of migrant children is only expected to increase in the coming weeks.
According to briefing material from Operation Artemis in response to the border crisis, more than 20,000 children and adolescents are in the custody of a government system that is already at “103 percent capacity”, with about 17,000 in shelters operated by the Department of Health. Under the leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Government estimates obtained by The New York Times show that more than 35,000 migrant children could be cared for by June – a possibility that a former senior health and human services officer called “terrible”.
The Department of Health and Human Services has the ability to build shelters, move children into them quickly and then reunite them with relatives and other sponsors in the United States, the first major test of whether The Biden administration can quickly and effectively respond to the growing immigration crisis that has far-reaching political and humanitarian implications.
The pressure is causing tension inside the White House. President Biden expressed frustration with his new secretary of health and human services, Javier Becerra, at a White House meeting on March 30, for which the president considered the bureaucratic hold in increased capacity, familiar to two exchange officials. accordingly.
Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Amy Pope, the president’s senior adviser for migration issues, have aggressively pressured officials from the Department of Health and other immigration agencies to fail to eject more than 4,000 migrant youth as quickly as possible Explain about Prison-like confinement by Border Patrol, according to many people familiar with the meetings.
When they first cross the border, unaccounted children and teenagers are taken to border jails. By law, they should be held for more than three days before being transported to about 150 shelters and other facilities and group homes overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But due to the lack of available space in shelters, young people are often kept for long periods of time in often-harsh conditions of border facilities. When they are eventually sent to health department shelters around the country – where they are required to receive schooling, medical care, psychological services and recreation, while officers are family members, friends or foster parents, who give them Can be carried – they usually withstand long periods of time ahead. Waits
White House spokesman Vedanta R. “Despite inheriting the broken immigration system due to four years of neglect and poor policy decisions, the Biden administration’s expansion is focused on capacity and bed space,” Patel said.
Images of tight cells filled with juveniles and children in border jails for adults are a direct result of the immediate lack of space in shelters, which were originally meant to be short-term facilities, but typically end up housing migrant children during other immigration hikes. Have been at least a month and often longer.
The latest boom, for President Barack Obama in 2014 and 2016 and President Donald J. in 2019. For Trump to be larger than the people who created the crisis, there is a race for administration officials to erect facilities and recruit staff for them.
Authorities have opened a dozen emergency shelters in vacant locations such as the Convention Center in Dallas and San Diego, an Expo Center in San Antonio and a military site and a former camp for oil workers in Texas.
They have moved to cut back the time it takes for parents to do background checks in an effort to free young migrants from shelters more quickly and to open places that are closed in border prisons. But with early signs of progress, earlier this week, more than 4,100 minors were trapped in border facilities, with more than 2,600 in border jails at the peak of the boom in 2019.
Republicans have seized on the issue to claim that Mr. Biden did not act swiftly to expand the asylum system, even focusing on exposing his previously restrictive restrictive border policies.
Mr. Biden sparked a slew of executive orders issued weeks after the office targeted other parts of his immigration agenda, including reviewing the Trump administration’s policies that limit asylum and the construction of the border wall . And the president waited until March To call FEMA To assist in the effort to find shelter for children, after the number of minors trapped in border jails has crossed 3,000.
Former health officials under Mr Trump – whose policies were intended to worsen conditions for migrants on the border to prevent more people from coming in – said he had expanded the number of beds available to expatriates During the last two years of his administration was pushed. To reduce the amount of time and time that children spend in the care of the department.
Two senior former officials said that by the time Mr. Trump stepped down, the department was ready to expand the system’s capacity by adding thousands of beds over time, which could be activated early in an emergency.
“America has the ability to be kind,” said Lynn Johnson, former assistant secretary of state for children and families, under the administration of the Department of Health under Mr. John Trump. “But we are not compassionate when we don’t have a process and we let everything that is happening happen.” We have to fix it. “
Mr Trump said career officials warned the incoming Biden team of a possible increase in arrivals in the spring, but said the new administration could not move quickly, to resume emergency facilities for additional space.
Officials in the Biden administration disapproved of that criticism, stating that they were not given enough information during the transition and informed Congress in early February of the need to add emergency capacity.
He said he was also impressed by a decision by Trump administration officials during the epidemic to hire dependents at the Health Department’s Refugee Resettlement Office. And he accused his predecessors of relying on the existence of Mr. Trump’s harsh policies that prevented migrants from entering the country.
During the transition, one of Mr. Biden’s top immigration officials, Cecilia Munoz, said, “They were taking away migrant children so that they were not attempting to expand the shelter system.”
With permanent shelters out of space, the administration is increasingly moving to temporary locations that are more like hurricane shelters, with some services like beds and schools instead of beds that the health department provides at its licensed facilities is.
Mr. Biden’s associates are filtering additional locations, including a convention center in Long Beach, California, and a navy boot camp in Illinois. Authorities are also considering increasing the number of tent camps associated with border jails. Government documents show that the administration still needs to hire medical officers and case managers.
A brief memo sent to administration officials this week directed the Health Department to identify and provide assistance to all available federal volunteers “efforts to address the increase of minors, a campaign reflected by email that government employees Demands to help. As of Friday, 2,722 government employees have volunteered, in most cases their salaries are raised by the Health Department. Some are caring for children in shelter sites. Others are case management , Helping in IT services, food delivery, transportation and other logistics.
Officials said hiring for shelters was often a challenge as the care of migrant children has become a highly charged, political issue, with critics often finding no distinction between the Border Patrol Jail and Health Department shelters.
Government contractors running several shelters on behalf of the government have struggled to prepare employees to withstand criticism. And the intense immigration debate has made it difficult to recruit foster parents.
Chris and Kristen Umphalet, who have welcomed migrant children to their home in Lansing, Michigan, for the past year, said that requests for help from organizations working on behalf of the government were becoming more urgent as the crisis worsened.
“They’ve asked frankly. ‘Do you know anyone? Tell people about this. Mr. Umflett, a data analyst at a software company, said,” Send people to us. “Part of the problem is they foster care for people Need to get into the funnel to qualify for. “
The United States has long struggled to get children out of government care to make room for new arrivals.
At the end match up with a parent already in the country. But others are handed over to more distant relatives, friends or foster parents. More distant connections, now children are usually kept in shelters, while health officials conduct background checks to ensure their safety.
Of the nearly 2,000 minors released to sponsors last week, nearly half rejoined after 23 days with parents or legal guardians. More distant relatives had to wait, on average, about two months.
Health department officials acknowledged that the waiting process was difficult. Families with limited English are required, in order to provide specific documents proving their relationship to authorities, and to send in fingerprints of some relatives for background checks.
The administration has made efforts to streamline the process that sought to determine the legal status of relatives before placing them with children, while rescuing a Trump-era program backed by Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda. Under Mr. Miller’s policy, the Department of Health was required to share background check information on all adults in a child’s prospective home with immigration and customs enforcement, which would then determine their legal status.
Critics said the policy discouraged some relatives from coming forward to bring back migrant children from the Department of Health. Under Mr Biden, the department no longer regularly shares information with ICE and does not require such extensive background checks for other members of the household.
But the pace has to be balanced with safety concerns for children, officials said, particularly after a 2016 Senate report that forced more than a dozen immigrant children to work in an egg farm or the Department of Health. After failing to conduct the background of the smuggling, he was put into the smuggling rings. Caregivers check.
“It may not look like an ideal system from the outside, but at its core is one that emphasizes safety, which is important for the safety of children,” said Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President Krishna Vigarraj. Minors united with sponsors.
The Biden administration has made progress in recent times, reducing the number of minors in border detention facilities to more than 1,000 from a height of 5,000 last month. But internal documents show that the administration said the summer will continue to grow to handle a surge, requiring the health department to release more than 800 minors a day by June, while currently employing about 300 children. Is issued daily.
Officials are also looking to reduce the flow of migrants from Central America, including children, diplomatic outreach, new immigration programs, and financial investment in the region. But former Mexico ambassador Roberta Jacobson, who was practicing diplomacy with the region, Announced on friday That she will leave the administration in late April as planned.