Facilities housing migrant children will be allowed to operate at full capacity despite previous COVID-19 restrictions as border crossings continue to rise, a Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation Friday.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) memo first reported by CNN granted permission for facilities managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to operate at full capacity as the number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. continues to rise.
“Today based on CDC guidance, ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] has notified facilities they may temporarily reactivate capacity within their full licensed capability up to safe occupancy levels. The same instruction applies to influx facilities up to what ORR and the contractor determine to be safe for influx,” a spokesperson for the HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) told the DCNF.
HHS “may temporarily increase capacity to full licensed capacity” though “reactivating beds must be done in a way that maintains a safe and healthy environment for UC and staff,” the ACF spokesperson told the DCNF. HHS facilities are safer for children than Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations, according to the spokesperson.
A memo drafted on CDC letterhead reportedly said “facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases,” according to CNN. Currently, the “only available options” for holding unaccompanied children are “prolonged stays at (Customs & Border Protection) facilities operating significantly above COVID-19 capacities,” the memo says, CNN reported.
The number of unaccompanied migrants held in CBP custody was down to “a handful” before the 2020 presidential election, former CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan told the DCNF.
“HHS is already overwhelmed” by the increasing number of unaccompanied minors, and more than 2,000 migrant children are currently in CBP custody, Morgan said.
“This is back to the crisis level numbers we had in 2019. The Biden administration knew when they shut down Title 42 for UAC’s [unaccompanied children] that it would increase the numbers and that’s exactly what we’re seeing, so now not only are UAC’s backing up Border Patrol facilities but their time in custody is increasing,” Morgan said.
Internal documents show CBP has housed migrant children for more than 72 hours, the maximum length of time children can be legally held by CBP before being transferred to HHS facilities, CNN reported earlier this week.
Around 11% of unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 before the inauguration, according to Morgan. “This was the whole reason that we were not letting people into the country during a global pandemic and this administration has said ‘nope, don’t care.”
“I think you’re going to see the unaccompanied minor numbers well in excess of 9,000 in February,” Morgan said. “So we’re right back where we were at the height of the crisis in 2019.”
Over 300 unaccompanied minors are being referred to HHS facilities daily and an expected 20,000 beds will be needed to accommodate the migrants, CNN reported.
“At this time, CBP does not have adequate space for physical distancing, quarantine of persons exposed to COVID-19 or isolation of ill or infected persons,” the memo said, CNN reported.