The Biden administration is scrambling to find space in shelters for migrant children along the southern border as the number of detained children tripled to more than 4,000 in the last two weeks. Due to the lack of space in facilities designed for unaccompanied minors and an influx of people, children are currently being held in jail-like facilities — and Republicans have seized on the situation.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. is expected to soon reach the highest number of migrants detained at the Southern border in two decades. Republicans have accused the Biden administration of instigating the crisis at the border, blaming Biden's relaxed immigration policies as an incentive for people to try to cross into the U.S. illegally.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., claimed this week that he met with border agents who issued "dire warnings" of suspected terrorist threats trying to cross the southern border.
McCarthy's unfounded allegations, which were echoed by Rep. John Katko, were some of the most alarming claims raised by Republicans aiming to attack Biden's immigration policies amid the recent surge of migrants and defend the Trump-era assertion that terrorists are crossing the southern border to wreak havoc on Americans. Trump often painted such a picture to gain support for his border wall with Mexico.
Democrats from border states, however, challenged McCarthy by demanding evidence to back up his claim.
"Weird as the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress haven't heard anything about this," tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego from Arizona. "Gonna ask for a briefing. Pretty sure he is either wrong or lying."
Gallego tagged McCarthy in a tweet that said, "Can you have your office arrange for a classified briefing for members to see where this info derived from?"
Former Rep. Julian Castro from Texas took to Twitter to call out the Republican party's hypocrisy. "In the last nine months of Trump's presidency there was a 690% increase in unaccompanied minors encountered by CBP. There's been a 61% increase under President Biden. How come we didn't hear a peep from you until now?"
Also from Texas, Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar slammed Republicans for their apathy toward meaningful legislation for immigration and Covid relief. "Their immigration strategy is exactly the same thing as their Covid strategy. Do nothing. Just let people die. P.S. @GOPLeader stop using my community as your prop."
While Republicans were causing chaos by spreading untrue terrorism claims, the Customs and Border Protection have been experiencing an average of 565 unaccompanied minors crossing the border per day as of Sunday, according to NBC News. Last month the average number of children crossing per day was 313.
The federal government has flown unaccompanied children and family groups from the Rio Grande Valley to the west Texas border city of El Paso, where shelter organizers are scrambling to find adequate space.
The Biden administration has refused to call the situation a crisis, however, they requested help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) on Saturday. FEMA is responding by quickly building "decompression centers" in Dallas and Midland, Texas in order to move more children out of border patrol custody as fast as possible.
"We are creating joint processing centers so that children can be placed in HHS care immediately after Border Patrol encounters them," said Mayorkas. "We are also identifying and equipping additional facilities for HHS to shelter unaccompanied children until they are placed with family or sponsors. These are short-term solutions to address the surge of unaccompanied children."
There are upwards of 4,200 children now in custody, 2,943 of which are being detained beyond the legal time frame of 72 hours. Unable to transfer them to the appropriate shelters, the children are being held in facilities originally built for adults, another scandal in the long list of disapprovals for the inhumane conditions managed by the Customs and Border Protection agency. It has previously been reported that these spaces have exposed detained children to disease, hunger, and inhumane crowding to protect them from Covid-19.
"We are continuing to work to convey to the people in the region that this is not the time to come," said Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week, "that the majority of people that come to the border will be turned away, which is factually accurate."
"The people who are being let in are unaccompanied children," she continued. "That was a policy decision, which we made because we thought it was the most humane approach to addressing what are very difficult circumstances in the region. And that means there are more children coming across the border."
Psaki continued to press that cleaning up the mess at the border is still one of their top priorities and working on policy that will keep the children safe while moving them as quickly as possible from border patrol facilities to shelters where they can have access to education, health, and legal resources.
There are a number of reasons why the administration officials think people are coming to the border in droves at this moment. Individuals are fleeing prosecution, violence, and economic hardships, among other things. The Central American region also experienced two hurricanes in the fall, putting further stress on the living conditions in these countries and the circumstances that are facing individuals. She also noted that the economic hardships from Covid-19 have hit these countries equally as hard as the United States.
"We've been very clear that there is an increase, that there are more children coming across the border than we have facilities for at this point in time," said Psaki when asked to confirm the number of detained children. "Those numbers are tracked by the department of homeland security, so I would encourage you to go back to them and confirm the numbers."
Biden said on Tuesday that he has no current plans to travel to the US-Mexico border but speaking to ABC's to George Stephanopoulos, he discouraged migrants from attempting to enter the US.
"Do you have to say quite clearly, 'Don't come'?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"Yes, I can say quite clearly: Don't come over," Biden replied. "Don't leave your town or city or community."