Politics

Overcrowded Border Jails Give Way to Packed Migrant Child Shelters

But the Biden administration has yet to solve one of the more troubling bottlenecks in the system at the border: quickly and safely releasing the minors from the shelters to vetted sponsors in the United States. The process is a balance of making sure the children are released to safe situations as well as trying to minimize the time they spend in government custody, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief executive of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

The Biden administration has also said many sponsors feared coming forward to claim minors after a Trump-era program required the health department to share background information on all adults in a child’s prospective household with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. President Biden has rescinded the program.

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said, the time in government custody has improved significantly from an average of 42 days when Mr. Biden took office to the current stay of about a month. On Thursday, 775 children were released from government care, which is about 300 more than were being released last week. But officials at the border report a need for more case managers to help move the children out of government custody, even as federal employees from other agencies have already been deployed to fill in the gaps.

The Department of Health and Human Services also said that there was no immediate risk of running out of money to care for the migrant children. The additional $850 million the program received this week, the department said, was to cover pandemic-related costs for testing and other precautions. And the need for additional funds was not a new problem, the department said, and it pointed to a nearly $3 billion request in 2019 from the Trump administration when there was a similar influx in migrants.

Mr. Biden blames the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies for leaving his team ill equipped to handle the migrant surge this spring. When migrants — mostly from Central America who were fleeing poverty, violence and natural disasters — started to arrive at the southwestern border in large numbers, the government did not have enough shelters to safely house children who arrived alone.

The Biden administration so far has not asked Congress for an emergency spending bill, which could distract from Senate Democrats’ efforts to pass immigration legislation. A 2019 request for more funding for the situation at the border set off a bitter fight in Congress, and a new request would most likely fuel criticism from Republicans who have made clear that they intend to seize on Mr. Biden’s border policies to galvanize their party’s base before the midterm elections

“It’s politics. It’s not about substance or process. If the government needs money to manage the border, they should get money to manage the border,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It’s an emergency. It wasn’t planned or in the budget that they would have record numbers of unaccompanied kids.”

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