The United States is set to open another facility to deal with the surge in illegal immigrants, President Joe Biden’s administration announced March 20.
The new facility is in Pecos, Texas.
It will initially hold about 500 children, with the potential to expand to 2,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
The ORR is legally required to care for unaccompanied minors until they’re united with a sponsor, typically a parent or relative, while their cases are processed.
The Target Lodge Pecos North property will house illegal immigrants in solid structures. Additional semi-permanent structures may be added, although the office tries to place children in solid ones.
Children who illegally cross the border without an adult will be sent to the facility when the site is ready to safely receive them, ORR said in a statement. The site will be used as a stop before unaccompanied minors are transferred to ORR shelters, “where children receive educational, medical, mental health, and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors without undue delay.”
ORR officials are struggling to handle the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border since Biden took office in January, and have had to open or reopen a number of detention centers.
“While ORR has worked to build up its licensed bed capacity to almost 13,500 beds, additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the increasing numbers of [unaccompanied minors] referrals from DHS,” the agency said.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents apprehend those who illegally cross the southern border from Mexico.
HSS is utilizing both short- and long-term options to deal with the surge, including expanding capacity, reducing the time it takes to unify a child with a sponsor, and establishing emergency sites to decrease overcrowding in other facilities.
In one example, the agency reached an agreement with officials in Dallas to house male teenagers in a convention center for up to 90 days.
The U.S. government also opened or reopened temporary holding facilities in Midland and Carrizo Springs. Both facilities have dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks, while the former was ordered to stop using water for human consumption because of integrity concerns.
The surge in unaccompanied minors stems from the Biden administration changing protocol from the Trump era. Under Title 42 powers, officials in the previous administration expelled all illegal border crossers. The Biden administration is still expelling some crossers but is allowing any minors without adults to enter the country. Biden also ordered a halt to the Remain in Mexico program, which made asylum seekers wait in Mexico until their claims could be heard.
Biden administration officials told reporters in a call on March 18 that Customs and Border Protection had 4,500 unaccompanied minors in custody while ORR had over 9,500.
Senators who visited the border last week decried the conditions they witnessed and urged the administration to take action.
“The number of unaccompanied children arriving at our southern border is at a level we have never seen before,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a tweet. “My visit to a migrant children’s facility in El Paso yesterday underscores the need to unify our message, secure our border, [and] fix the humanitarian crisis we are facing.”