In a rather strange turn of events, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is opening more child detention centers to better control the influx of migrants at the southern border, a decision that is in total contrast to the Democratic leader’s pledges to move away from Donald Trump’s destructive immigration policies.
This is the third time in the past seven years that U.S. officials are trying to counter a dramatic spike in children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border by making more emergency facilities to detain them as they wait to either be deported or released to close relatives in America.
As of last Thursday, the U.S. government held over 22,000 migrant children in custody, some 10,500 sleeping on cots at convention centers, military bases and other large venues that bear many similarities to hurricane evacuation shelters, lacking any kind of privacy or enough space to play. Over 2,500 of those children are also placed inside substandard facilities.
The Biden administration has been criticised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his administration’s failure to control the border after he ended some of Trump’s aggressive immigration policies, such as quickly deporting unaccompanied kids.
As a result of he COVID-19 pandemic, minors are packed into Border Patrol facilities not meant to hold them longer than three days. They are also being detained for weeks in the mass housing sites that often lack the most basic services needed for children.
Some human right lawyers have also warned that the authorities are not allowing sine children to meet social workers who can reunite them with family in the U.S.
“As it currently stands with a lot of these emergency intake sites, children are going in and there’s no way out,” said Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law. “They’re complete dead ends.”
Eleven emergency sites have opened since mid-March. At two recently visited by attorneys, children said they had not met with case managers tasked with reuniting them with family.
The Trump administration had predicted the detention centers would run out of beds by mid-January or early February. On Feb. 22, the Biden administration reopened a tent facility.
The Border Patrol encountered 18,663 unaccompanied children in March, the highest monthly total on record, much higher than 11,475 in May 2019 and 10,620 in June 2014.
More than 15,000 unaccompanied children were expelled between April and November 2019 when Trump was still in office, government figures.
One of the main reasons that the centers were not rebuilt was the fact that Democrats, state and local officials didn’t want to cooperate because they were under the impression that the kids were being kept in cages, experts argue, warning that as a result the problem is only expected to grow bigger.
The challenge “will likely increase in severity in the coming weeks and months,” Cindy Huang, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.