While the Biden administration has been working tirelessly to maintain public focus on their ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, the growing immigration crisis at the Southern border cannot be understated. On 15th March, more than 4,000 migrant children were being housed in Border Patrol facilities. As of yesterday, more than 15,000 migrant children are now in US Custody. And now, per a Department of Homeland Security document obtained by Axios, 823 unaccompanied minors have been in Border Patrol Custody for more than 10 days, well past the three-day legal limit.
President Biden has come under fire in recent weeks for the government's inability to adequately respond to a surge of migrants seeking refuge at the US-Mexico border. From reopening a migrant children detention centre in Carrizo Springs, TX known as the "Cadillac of migrant children centres" — with additional plans to open another for-profit child detention centre in Florida — to recently restricting information Border Patrol agents and section chiefs can share with members of the media, Biden's promise to "restore humanity and American values to our immigration system" appears to be nothing more than a failed campaign promise.
"Just left the border processing facility. 100s of kids packed into big open rooms," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted on 19th March after visiting the border. "In a corner, I fought back tears as a 13 yr old girl sobbbed [sic] uncontrollably explaining thru a translator how terrified she was, having been separated from her grandmother and without her parents." Sen. Murphy went on to clarify that the child had not been forcibly separated from her parents — in this child's case, her parents were already in the United States — but went on to write: "But even though kids can now stay and apply for asylum, if they are travelling w relatives who aren't parents, the relative can't stay.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN's Dana Bash that they had established three new facilities last week and are "implementing new efficiencies in the HHS process so that we can unite these children with their relatives here in the United States." He went on to say: "This is what we do. We know how to do it. We have dealt with surges in the past, and the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security will succeed."
Mayorkas did say the current crisis is a result of the largest surge of migrants at the border in two decades, but could not give a clear date outside of "as soon as possible" on when the HHS would be able to provide more humane facilities for unaccompanied migrant children.
Mayorkas cited COVID-19 as a reason why things at the border have grown significantly more "challenging," as well as the previous administration's policies or, in some cases, lack thereof. "Not just because the Trump administration tore down our systems and we have to rebuild them from scratch, but also because of the fact that we're in the midst of a pandemic," he said.
More than 5,400 children were forcibly separated from their parents under the Trump administration's family separation policy — as of December 2020, more than 600 parents of those children were still missing. In four years, there were over 5,000 complaints of sexual abuse and harassment of migrant children in US custody.
Experts believe the crisis at the Southern border will only grow more dire in the coming weeks and months. And clearly, Biden refusing to openly discuss it and silencing those on the ground is not helping.