US authorities are scrambling to accommodate and treat an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border.
The Pentagon has approved a request to accommodate unaccompanied migrant children at two US military facilities in the state of south Texas, amid a surge in the number of migrants arriving at the border.
The request comes as President Joe Biden faced a burgeoning migration challenge along the US border with Mexico, which he blamed on the “somewhat draconian” policies of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) request was to house up to 5,000 children in Fort Bliss and Another 300 at the other base, although it was not immediately clear whether the request had been approved in full.
In a statement, the Pentagon said it approved the HHS request to temporarily house the children at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland and Fort Bliss.
“HHS will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support of these children at all times on the facility,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
He added that the children would be accommodated in a vacant dormitory and temporary accommodation.
US policy requires that minors not be detained for more than 72 hours by immigration officials before being transferred to the custody of the HHS, which is better equipped to provide care.
However, the recent increase has seen thousands of unaccompanied minors stay longer in customs and border protection custody, as US officials struggle to process and accommodate them quickly.
Government data viewed by national public radio shows that more than 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, many fleeing violence and poverty in their countries of origin, are currently in customs and border protection custody. Children spend an average of 131 hours in prison-like facilities.
A Texas Democratic congressman on Monday posted photos of a facility in the town of Donna, showing detained children in crowded rooms with mattresses on the floor surrounded by clear plastic.
Lawmakers said a group meant to hold 260 people housed 400 boys.
The Biden administration has promised a more humane approach to migrants crossing the southern border than Trump, but has been criticized by Republicans that the change has encouraged more people to attempt the journey.
According to the Pew Research Center, 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children were seen in February – an increase of 168% and 63% respectively from the previous month.
Nonetheless, the Biden administration said it would take time to readjust resources for the new approach.
Wednesday, Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead his administration’s efforts to work with Latin American countries to address the challenges posed by increased migration.
Biden also said the United States would invest $ 700 million in a development plan for the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as part of an effort to tackle the causes. depths of migration.