Amid a surge in the number of migrants putting pressure on processing systems at the US border with Mexico, the Biden administration has called in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help ease the strain. FEMA normally deals with major emergencies and natural disasters.
It’s understood that FEMA will provide support for 90 days amid a record 3,200 children being held in US immigration facilities at the border as of March 8 with hundreds continuing to arrive each day. Most are being held longer than the three-day limit allowed by US law as immigration officials struggle to cope with the influx.
Recently, the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS), Alejandro Mayorkas, described the situation at the border as ‘overwhelming’, stopping short of calling it a crisis. However, many have disagreed with Mayorkas’ assessment of the situation, including former acting DHS Secretary, Chad Wolf.
Republican Senator, Bill Cassidy, blamed a shift in Biden’s policies for encouraging migrants to rush to the border. He told Fox News: “Empirically, it is entirely [Biden’s responsibility]. You can’t help but notice that the administration changes and there’s a surge.”
Expand physical capacity
In announcing FEMA’s involvement, Mayorkas said: “The DHS will work with the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging.”
“Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interests of the children,” Mayorkas added.
On his way to becoming President, Biden promised to reverse many of his predecessor’s inflammatory and controversial US immigration policies. Since taking office in January, he has ordered the reunification of migrant children with their families, cancelled construction of the border wall and called for a review of legal immigration programmes terminated by Trump.
However, since January, 5,781 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the border, rising from 4,995 in December – according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.
Meanwhile, the number held in detention tripled in just two weeks to 3,250. Of this number, nearly 50 percent had been held longer than 72 hours in facilities designed for adults.
Reuniting parents and children
It is the job of the HHS to reunite unaccompanied migrant children with their parents, guardians and US relatives or find a sponsor to accommodate them while their US immigration case is under consideration.
While COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted on HHS-managed facilities to increase capacity for unaccompanied children, a report published by The New York Times claims that they are just days away from reaching maximum capacity.
According to the CBP data, the majority of children detained are boys aged between 15 and 17.
Meanwhile, some reports have suggested that desperate families, who have been refused US entry at the border, are sending their children ahead of them alone to improve their chances of getting into the US.
CBP data recently released for February shows that 100,441 people had attempted to enter the US along the southern border, representing a 28 per cent increase compared to January.
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