Government facilities that host unaccompanied migrant children are rapidly reaching capacity due to COVID-19 operational restrictions, causing the Biden administration to rely on a privately operated Trump-era facility in Texas.
An emergency temporary facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, was reopened Monday and around 200 migrant children were transported to the facility that will hold up to 700 migrant teenagers due to permanent facilities reaching maximum capacity and increasing apprehensions of unaccompanied children, CBS News reported. U.S. Border Patrol encountered over 5,700 unaccompanied minors in January 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
BCFS Health and Human Services, a government contractor, privately operates the facility for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Daily Caller News Foundation reported. The facility received criticism for the high cost of daily operations and an alleged lack of transparency.
“We can confirm that BCFS Health and Human Services Emergency Management Division is operating the facility,” a spokesperson told the DCNF Monday evening. “We are simply tasked with opening the influx shelter due to the increased number of minors being referred to ORR and the limited bed capacity in ORR shelters.”
The Biden administration is focusing more on child welfare than enforcement, HHS Spokesperson Mark Weber said, The Washington Post reported. Carrizo Springs is operating on a federal emergency management system and is expected to close when the pandemic ends and children can be placed in permanent facilities.
The Department of Health and Human Services previously refused to say how the treatment of migrant children in the facility would be different from the Trump administration, the DCNF reported.
“It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President Joe] Biden promised he was going to do,” San Antonio-based immigration lawyer Linda Brandmiller said, the Post reported. “It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.”
Over 13,000 taxpayer-funded beds in nearly 200 facilities are available to migrant children, though around half of them are unusable due to COVID-19 regulations, Weber said, the Post reported. Around 7,000 migrant children were in HHS custody as of Sunday, filling facilities to nearly 90% capacity.
Weber said the criticism of the facility was because people correlate them with Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers and said that children received good care regardless of the administration, the Post reported.
The Carrizo Springs facility does not have to meet state licensing requirements, though Weber said the facility will “meet or exceed” Texas’s standards, the Post reported. It costs around $800 daily to hold a child at influx facilities and just under $300 to keep them at permanent facilities, the Post reported.
Children will remain at the Carrizo Springs facility for around 30 days as HHS works to place them with a sponsor in the interior of the U.S., the Post reported. Around 750 unaccompanied minors remained in CBP custody Friday despite a law requiring them to be transferred to the ORR within three days of apprehension, CBS reported.
The Biden administration repealed a policy keeping unaccompanied children from entering the U.S. which is also contributing to the increased number of minors in government facilities, the Post reported.
HHS did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.