A top official from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in charge of caring for unaccompanied immigrant children (UC) has described the surge of illegal border crossings as “unprecedented,” while adding that the temporary shelters that have been opened are providing “a crisis standard of care” to the minors.
Cindy Huang, director of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), made the comments in a sworn declaration to a federal court judge in a case related to the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which sets the principles and guidelines for the care, custody, and release of immigrant children under federal custody.
In her testimony, Huang characterized the ongoing surge of illegal immigrants at the U.S. southern border, particularly a surge in unaccompanied minors, as “historic” and “unprecedented,” while telling the federal judge that she believes the influx is likely to increase in the “coming weeks and months.”
“As an initial matter, it is important to understand that the current influx is not limited to the January-March time period but is an ongoing challenge that will likely increase in severity in the coming weeks and months,” Huang told a federal judge from California (pdf).
Her declaration was made in response to a series of recommendations by an independent monitor and special expert about the conditions at CBP facilities, ORR emergency holding facilities, and other facilities currently caring for migrant children.
“ORR appreciates the Interim Report’s acknowledgement that the U.S. Government is dealing with an unprecedented number of UC apprehended at the border and that ORR has vastly expanded its capacity in a short amount of time,” she said.
Huang’s comments are in contradiction to remarks made by President Joe Biden during his first formal press conference on March 25. Biden sought to downplay the severity of the situation at the U.S. southern border, saying that the influx was driven by normal seasonal patterns rather than his administration’s new policies.
“It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year,” Biden said at the time.
Other members of Biden’s administration such as White House press secretary Jen Psaki have also been careful about using the term “crisis” to describe the situation at the border.
In her declaration, Huang describes temporary migrant holding centers, known as Emergency Intake Sites, as “temporary emergency sites” that are “focused on providing a crisis standard of care until [unaccompanied children] can be transferred to a better-resourced setting.”
Her declaration also provides a glimpse into how the continuous flow of illegal immigration is overwhelming the federal agencies tasked with managing the situation.
“[I]t should be noted that EISs are novel temporary facilities implemented with urgency to address the historic number of children arriving at the border,” Huang said. “Given the significant overcrowding at CBP facilities, immediate implementation of EIS facilities was viewed as critical to ensuring the welfare of UC and was prioritized over the development of nuanced policies governing these sites. However, ORR has been working diligently to develop policies standardizing services at EIS facilities, and these forthcoming policies are currently undergoing an expedited clearance process.”
The HHS previously said it is seeking to build capacity for 13,500 beds, with the potential for additional capacity in order to meet what has been a continuous flow of unaccompanied minors coming across the border. The department has opened multiple temporary facilities in the past two weeks.
For the month of March, CBP agents encountered over 172,000 illegal immigrants, according to statistics released on April 8. This is up from just over 101,000 individuals encountered in February.
Among those who crossed illegally into the United States last month were over 18,800 unaccompanied minors, which is double the number of minors who illegally arrived in the United States in February at over 9,300 encounters. This is compared to 5,585 unaccompanied minors in January, and 4,993 unaccompanied minors in December 2020.
Under current law, unaccompanied minors are supposed to be transferred out of CBP care and custody to more permanent housing within 72 hours.
The White House did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on Huang’s testimony.