US Lacks Facilities for Spike in Unaccompanied Children at Border: Psaki

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
March 10, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the United States doesn’t have enough facilities to house the influx of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are more children coming across the border than we have facilities for at this point in time,” Psaki told reporters during a press briefing.

According to multiple reports, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that the number of migrant children in custody along the southern border is currently more than 3,250—more than triple the number from two weeks ago. Of those children, more than 1,360 have been staying at holding cells longer than the three days allowed by law.

Psaki defended the influx, saying that the Biden administration’s policy of accepting unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 was first introduced as it continues to prioritize “humanity.”

“That is a policy decision which we made because we felt it was the most humane approach to addressing what are very difficult circumstances in the region, and that means there are more children, kids under the age of 18 of course, coming across the border,” she said.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki Briefs Media In Daily News Conference
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on March 9, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The administration, she said, is “working on putting in place policies that can address what we’re seeing,” such as increasing the number of Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities for unaccompanied children to be transferred to after being apprehended at the southern border.

It is also working to “safely” increase the number of children that can occupy current facilities in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she said.

“One of the issues we’ve had is that the COVID-19 pandemic initially severely limited the number of children that could be taken into HHS facilities and the pace at which they can happen and the pace at which that can happen,” Psaki said.

President Joe Biden hasn’t yet acknowledged the crisis or announced any concrete plans to address the growing number of illegal crossings. When asked by a reporter this week whether there’s a crisis at the border, Biden replied, “No, we’ll be able to handle it.”

Adopting a similar tone, Psaki on Tuesday brushed off the need to “put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging.”

The DHS meanwhile is seeking volunteers from among its agencies to assist in dealing with an “overwhelming” migrant surge at the border.

migrants waiting in mexico
Alien migrants receive food as they wait for news at the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, on Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in an email to employees on March 8 said that he has activated the Volunteer Force to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in providing humanitarian support and non-law enforcement assistance.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Biden has signed a flurry of executive orders that dismantled the Trump administration’s border security measures. That included temporarily suspending deportations of illegal aliens, reversing former President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from terror-prone countries, halting border wall construction, stopping adding people to the Trump-era 2019 “Remain in Mexico” program, preserving and fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and releasing a sweeping immigration package to Congress that includes amnesty for millions of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday called the situation at the border a “crisis” and blamed Biden’s immigration policies, saying they invite illegal immigration. He said the crisis “will grow increasingly worse by the day.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) meanwhile said that he will head a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess the situation, including the dramatic surge in unaccompanied children, Axios first reported.

“I feel compelled to express great concern with the manner in which your administration is approaching this crisis, but with hope that we can work together to solve it,” McCarthy wrote in a letter Friday, requesting to meet with the president.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.