The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help “safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children” detained by authorities while trying to enter the country through the southern border.
The DHS statement on Saturday came amid the recent surge of the number of migrant children detained on the border, which has put pressure on the Joe Biden administration as its immigration policy has come under attack by Republicans, especially those in the southern states directly impacted by the influx, reports Xinhua news agency.
“We are working in partnership with HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) to address the needs of unaccompanied children,” Secretary of the DHS Alejandro Mayorkas said in the statement.
With the announcement, FEMA will work with HHS to “look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging”, he added.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced the termination of an agreement reached during Donald Trump’s presidency that allowed DHS and HHS to share information on potential sponsors for migrant children with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Ending the Trump-era policy means that a family member or sponsor looking to reunite with an unaccompanied child in the government’s care would not face any immigration enforcement consequences.
The New York Times, citing internal government documents, reported earlier this week that the number of unaccompanied migrant children detained along the southern border has tripled in the last two weeks to more than 3,250, of which 1,360 have been detained beyond the mandatory 72-hour limit permitted by US law.
Pressured by reporters at recent news briefings, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to confirm the numbers, saying Biden had been briefed on the situation, and the priority was to quickly transfer the kids from the detention facilities to shelters with better accommodation.
Roberta Jacobson, the Biden Administration’s coordinator for the southern border, acknowledged that the situation has put the government in a dilemma.
“It is difficult at times to convey both hope in the future and the danger that is now,” She told a press briefing last week.