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Biden administration says 14,000 migrant children in its custody as it refuses to call border situation a ‘crisis’

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The latest update appears President Joe Biden and his top advisers work urgently to design solutions to the border situation, including increasing the capacity to accommodate unaccompanied children and work with Mexico to help manage the flow of migrants from Central America.

Officials said there were more than 9,500 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and about 4,500 with U.S. customs and border protection. This represents an increase over earlier this week. The average length of stay of a child in HHS custody is 34 days, an official added.

The situation has led to scrutiny and accusations that Biden’s more welcoming stance on migrants caused a rush from Central America. Biden himself tried refute this notion in an interview this week.

But as the number of children in federal custody increases, the White House is under pressure to provide an answer that will both solve the problem and maintain the more humane approach in which Biden campaigned.

Reporting to reporters on Thursday, senior government officials insisted it was former President Donald Trump’s policies that left them in the current situation and said migrant flows should be expected.

“Children appearing at the border is not a national crisis,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“January 20 was not suddenly the time when the border looked different. The numbers go up and down all the time,” the official said. “Adults are retreating. Most families are retreating. We can prosecute and protect children who come to our borders seeking help as required by law and our administration does.”

Despite the administration’s efforts to minimize the current increase in migrants, CBP is about to meet with more people at the border than in the past 20 years, National Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Tuesday. He said the agency is with children up to six and seven years old.

Mayorkas appearances on television this week, combined with briefings from officials, have been designed to show that the administration is at the forefront of the issue. Biden has received harsh criticism from Republicans, but also from some Democrats, for his treatment.

Administration officials said Thursday that most adult migrants and migrant families were deported. But they acknowledged that there were limitations in Mexico’s ability to accommodate migrants, especially those with young children. And they reiterated that the Biden administration would not expel unaccompanied minors.

“We are dealing with the hand that treated us. The president inherited a mess,” an official said. “We have a whole government approach to clearing the mess.”

The administration’s goal now is to expand the capacity of its facilities and speed up the processing of unaccompanied children to allow them to get out of government attention more quickly, officials said Thursday.

This includes modifying the Covid-19 protocols so that it would increase the number of people allowed inside each facility, opening new facilities and paying for children’s flights or transportation to meet with family members or guardians. .

Officials also stressed that they worked through diplomatic channels to try to address the root causes of migration from Central America, which include violence, poverty and – this year – two devastating hurricanes.

But these efforts are long-term. For now, the administration said it was trying to quickly increase the capacity of CBP’s new facilities in Texas and Arizona to accommodate incoming migrants while providing a basic level of comfort.

An official said the CBP-operated temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, which houses most unaccompanied children arriving at the border, “has been designed to be able to provide the best possible care in the circumstances.”

The official said it included three meals a day, access to regular snacks, freedom of movement, phone calls, showers and occasional outdoor leisure time.

“There would be what I would say people do the best they can to provide care in a facility that isn’t really designed to have a large number of children,” one official said.

Media requests to tour Donna’s facilities have been repeatedly denied, as DHS cites Covid restrictions. And while the White House said Wednesday it would discuss publicly disclosing photos taken by a delegation from the administration of Donna’s facility earlier this month, it seemed unlikely a day later.

“There was a private briefing, an internal briefing several weeks ago. We don’t normally provide these materials publicly, but we want you to be able to do that, or a set of media so you can have your own graphics and get your own images. of these facilities, ”White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

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