As the surge of illegal immigrants at the U.S.–Mexico border remains at historic levels, the Biden administration acknowledged it’s “a big problem,” saying that it’s currently assessing whether to add additional facilities for unaccompanied minors.
During a daily White House briefing on March 15, press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration believes it has a handle on the border situation, while blaming the previous administration for leaving behind a “dismantled and unworkable system.”
“Like any other problem, we are going to do everything we can to solve it,” she told reporters. “Our focus here is on solutions.”
Psaki noted that the CDC recently updated its guidelines to return to full capacity, which she said “will help expand capacity to move children more quickly out of CBP facilities.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency will also now work more closely together, which Psaki said “will allow the government to more quickly ID, vet, confirm sponsors and family members of the unaccompanied minors, and will lead to quicker placement.”
“None of these border patrol facilities are made for children and we want to move them as quickly as possible into shelters and then into homes,” Psaki added. “FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is now providing support at the border … we hope this will help quickly get children into HHS facilities and placed with vetted sponsors and families.”
Border Patrol apprehended 100,441 illegal border-crossers along the southern border in February, according to CBP. The number reflects a 28 percent increase over January.
Over the weekend, Homeland Security announced that FEMA will be sent to the border to “support a government-wide effort over the next 90 days to safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southwest border.”
According to a March 13 statement, FEMA “is now integrated and co-located with HHS to look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging.”
At one point during the briefing, Psaki was asked if the presence of FEMA was an acknowledgment that the border surge is reaching disaster levels; the press secretary side-stepped the question.
“I know that we always get into the fun of labels around here,” Psaki told reporters. “This is one of the steps the president felt would help expedite processing, help ensure that people who are coming across the border have access to health and medical care. Clearly, the numbers are enormous, this is a big challenge.”
Psaki also said that the administration is “looking at additional facilities to open to move unaccompanied children into facilities where they can receive access to health care, educational resources, mental health resources, legal resources.”
According to CBP data, in fiscal year 2021 through February, “29,792 unaccompanied children and single minors have been encountered along the Southwest Border.” That includes 2,942 under the age of 12 and 26,850 between 13 and 17 years old.