Joe Biden orders expanded facilities for unaccompanied child migrants amid surge in numbers

In February, almost 10,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossed into the US, straining resources to process arrivals

Asylum seeking migrant families with children from Central America take refuge in a makeshift U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center under the Anzalduas International Bridge after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Granjeno, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2021. Picture taken on March 6, 2021.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif
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On Saturday, the Biden administration ordered the government's disaster emergency agency to help with a surge in migrant children crossing the southern border that has overwhelmed processing centres.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to support an effort to temporarily house thousands of children who crossed the US-Mexico border alone amid criticism that authorities were holding them for long periods of time in overcrowded facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is currently holding about 8,800 migrant children and US Customs and Border Protection has hundreds more in their charge, with more arriving every day.

In February alone the customs agency detained 9,457 unaccompanied migrant children at the southern border.

Facilities are overcrowded and authorities are doubly challenged by restrictions related to Covid-19.

The Department of Homeland Security said that Fema would be part of a 90-day effort to ensure the children were safely sheltered and transferred to people who would take care of them, usually relatives already living in the US.

"The federal government is responding to the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border," the department said.

"Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the border has been rising due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America."

The nearly two-month-old government of President Joe Biden faces growing pressure from migrants, apparently encouraged to try to enter the US by his rejection of predecessor Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy towards undocumented immigrants.

While migrant adults and families continue to be sent back to Mexico when they are caught, unaccompanied children are being processed and receive help resettling with US relatives.

"Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children," Mr Mayorkas said.