Joe Biden’s administration is calling on FEMA to support efforts to temporarily house thousands of children who have crossed the US-Mexico border alone.
The United States government has ordered an emergency agency that typically responds to floods, storms and other major disasters to help care for a growing number of migrant children arriving at the U.S. border. Mexican.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Saturday that he would deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “to help receive, house and transport children” over the next 90 days.
The move signals the scale of a growing humanitarian and political crisis for US President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office on January 20. The surge in arrivals comes as Biden reversed some of the restrictive policies of former Republican President Donald Trump.
Unaccompanied minors crossing the border are transferred by immigration officials to another federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But an increase in the number of children arriving without parents or legal guardians has exceeded reception capacity, which had previously been reduced by 40% to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Coronavirus shelter capacity restrictions were lifted on March 5, but only around 200 beds returned online last week, an administration official told reporters on Friday.
It’s unclear exactly how FEMA will help, although the agency has expertise in housing and caring for the homeless.
The Homeland Security statement said FEMA would help examine “all available options to quickly expand the physical capacity of suitable housing.”
A FEMA statement added that it was also working with HHS “to provide basic food, water and medical care.”
Migrant children apprehended at the border are expected to be transferred out of border patrol custody within 72 hours. But when shelter space is limited, they can get stuck in border detention centers for longer periods of time – as is currently the case.
Border crossings were built to house adult males for short periods of time and could pose a COVID-19 health risk to children and staff if overcrowded.
More than 3,600 migrant children were held in U.S. border facilities Thursday morning, a U.S. official told Reuters, more than four times the number at the end of February.
As of Friday, the HHS refugee office had around 8,800 unaccompanied children in custody.
FEMA also helped coordinate a response to an influx of unaccompanied minors in 2014 under former President Barack Obama.