Number of migrant children in HHS facilities surges as border shelters empty

‘The Five’ slam Biden for saying border is closed as record numbers cross

More than 178K migrant encounters in April according to CBP; reaction from ‘The Five’

The Biden administration and Democratic allies in Congress have been touting a decrease in the numbers of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol facilities in recent weeks — but it coincides with a significant increase in those held in Health and Human Services (HHS) custody, where those children are being moved.

The administration recently released photographs of the now-almost empty Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas, as it noted that the number of unaccompanied children in custody was in the hundreds – from the more than 5,000 just a few months ago.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday pointed to the numbers that she said showed an “80% decrease of the number of children under the auspices of the Border Patrol.” 

“They had been moved out more expeditiously than before because the Biden-Harris Administration had reconstructed how we deal with the situation at the border,” Pelosi said. 

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, young migrants wait to be tested for COVID-19 at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, Pool, File)

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, meanwhile, this week hailed “dramatic progress” but stressed that “the challenge remains” and said that it intended to keep its current capacity to cope with future influxes.

“We’re down to about 1,830 people per day right now,” he said, referring to encounters at the border. “Unfortunately, we’re still seeing a fairly high population of migrant children are coming across — 270 a day right now, the last 21 days,” he said.

However, the numbers in HHS custody have been going up. As of Thursday, the number of children in HHS custody was over 20,000, an increase from more than just less than 12,000 in later March. The Associated Press reported that they are held in a network of approximately 200 facilities across two dozen states and a number of shelters with more than 1,000 in them each.

While it is widely recognized that HHS is better able to care for unaccompanied children than U.S. Border Patrol, even some Democrats have accused the administration of being misleading on the issue. 

“All they’re doing is, they’re moving kids from one tent to the other tent and saying, ‘Oh, they’re not in the Border Patrol (custody),’” Cuellar said, according to Border Report.

Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced this week that in April, more than 178,000 migrants were encountered at the border. The agency said that the number of unaccompanied children from Northern Triangle countries dropped by 12 percent, with 13,962 in April compared with 15,918 in March.

An HHS spokesperson told the Associated Press that the department’s staff and contractors are working hard to keep children in their custody safe and healthy. The Department says that HHS holds children transferred by Border Patrol for testing and quarantine, and they are then sheltered until the child is placed with a sponsor.

According to HHS, in more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the U.S., and in more than 40 percent of cases, that is a parent or legal guardian. The Biden administration has been paying for travel costs both for children to go to their sponsors, and for their sponsors to come pick them up.

The facilities used to house children include military bases, stadiums and convention centers — known as Emergency Intake Sites. Activists have complained that they don’t receive access to education or legal counsel.

The administration has blamed the Trump administration for the migrant crisis, saying that it was not prepared for the massive surge in migrants at the border. Mayorkas, at a Senate hearing Thursday, said “the prior administration failed to increase the Department of Health and Human Services capacity to receive the unaccompanied children from border patrol stations within the required timeframe. “

But critics have pushed back, saying the surge has been caused by a change in policy by the administration, which has ended policies to keep migrants out — like the Migrant Protection Protocols — and has instead focused on processing unaccompanied children and some migrant families and releasing them into the U.S. as quickly as possible.

“Allowing the federal government to place a potentially unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our states’ facilities for an unspecified length of time with almost zero transparency is unacceptable and unsustainable,” they write. “We have neither the resources nor the obligation to solve the federal government’s problem and foot the bill for the consequences of this administration’s misguided actions.”

Fox News’  Marisa Schultz contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.

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