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US rushes to find beds for migrant children as number of unaccompanied minors detained by government reaches 15,500

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The U.S. government was sheltering around 15,500 unaccompanied migrant minors on Saturday, including 5,000 adolescents and children stranded in border patrol facilities not designed for long-term custody, according to government data reviewed by CBS News.

As of Saturday morning, more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors were being held at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tent detention facility in South Texas and other stations along the border with Mexico. According to government records, unaccompanied children spend an average of 136 hours in CBP custody, well beyond the 72-hour limit under U.S. law.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was also housing nearly 10,500 unaccompanied children in emergency housing and shelters licensed by states to care for minors, department spokesman Mark said on Saturday. Weber at CBS News.

More than 9,400 unaccompanied minors were taken into custody at the US border last month, a record for February. That number is expected to be eclipsed by the March figure, as border officials have seen an average of more than 500 unaccompanied minors per day over the past 21 days, according to government data.

The refugee agency within HHS is responsible for accommodating most unaccompanied minors until it can place them with family members or other sponsors in the United States. high number of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border and limited bed space in its state-approved shelters, the U.S. refugee agency has been forced to open makeshift accommodation to get children out of border guard.

Migrant children and teens from the southern border of the United States relax in the sun outside their accommodations at a temporary detention center south of Midland, Texas. Eli Hartman / AP

On Saturday, HHS informed Congress that it would open a new influx facility in Pecos, Texas, which is initially expected to house around 500 unaccompanied children, according to a notice obtained by CBS News. HHS said the facility, a former housing facility for oil workers, could be expanded in the future to accommodate up to 2,000 miners.

The Pecos facility would become the fourth influx or emergency housing center for unaccompanied minors opened by the Biden administration, which is working to find a bed for the growing number of children arriving at the US border -Mexican without parents or legal guardians. The Trump administration has used three influx facilities for migrant children for four years.

Last month, the U.S. Refugee Agency reopened a Trump-era influx center in Carrizo Springs, Texas. With help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the refugee office also converted a Dallas convention center and camp for oil workers in Midland, Texas to emergency sites for receiving teenagers. unaccompanied stuck in border patrol facilities, most of which were built to detain migrant men.

Figures examined by CBS News on Saturday show that the US government continues to fight to reduce the record backlog of children in custody at the US border, even as it opens new housing and increases bed capacity at shelters state approved.

“The sheer number of children held by CBP is both heartbreaking and deeply concerning,” Neha Desai, a lawyer representing migrant minors in a landmark court case, told CBS News.

Last week, Desai and her colleague at the National Center for Youth Law, Leecia Welch, interviewed migrant minors being held at the Border Patrol Tent Detention Center in Donna, Texas. According to Desai, children reported taking turns sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding; not being able to call family members; and shower once every seven days.

Desai said she believed that “the Biden administration is committed to dealing humanely with the humanitarian situation we face today,” but that “time will tell if good intentions and hard work of government will result in the changes that are urgently needed. “

Paul Wise, a court-appointed doctor responsible for monitoring conditions facing migrant children detained in the United States, told U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee on Friday he had found “deep overcrowding” in the United States. Donna Detention Center and other CBP stations in South Texas. he shot last week.

Wise warned the overcrowded conditions were not “sustainable”, saying holding capacity along the southern border could start to erode.

CBP told CBS News in a statement that it is working to move unaccompanied minors to HHS shelters “as quickly as possible.” Echoing statements by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the agency said the border patrol detention facilities “are not intended to hold children long term.”

“Even a few hours of custody is more than what we want for the children the border patrol apprehends at the border,” the agency said in a statement.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowed shelters to relax social distancing measures and return to their pre-pandemic capacity in early March, the U.S. Refugee Office has reactivated more than 500 beds, said a agency spokesperson on CBS News earlier this week.

While the refugee agency no longer plans to use a military base in Virginia or a NASA facility in northern California to house unaccompanied children, it is still evaluating other sites, according to Weber, the spokesperson for HHS.

Citing a late 19th-century public health authority, the Trump administration summarily deported thousands of unaccompanied children from the southern border without allowing them to seek asylum until a federal judge blocks it. practice in November 2020.

While an appeals court lifted the judge’s order in late January, the Biden administration refused to deport unaccompanied migrant children, calling the practice inhumane. The Biden administration continued to use the Trump-era public health decree to deport migrant adults and some families with children.

“We made a different decision than the previous administration,” Mayorkas said Thursday on CBS This Morning. “We do not kick young children into the environment of poverty and violence from which they flee.”

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