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The US is on track to encounter more than 2 million migrants at the US-Mexico border by the end of the fiscal year, according to internal government estimates reviewed by CNN, marking a record high.
Here’s what’s happened this week:
Harris diving into migration diplomacy. The Vice President and her team are staring down attempts to make her the face of the Biden administration’s response to the crisis at the border, a little more than a week after being assigned a role that positions her in the center of one of the administration’s most divisive issues.
Video shows children being dropped from border wall. Border Patrol agents rescued two young Ecuadorian sisters after alleged human smugglers dropped them over a 14-foot-tall border fence in the New Mexico desert, the US Customs and Border Protection announced in a news release.
‘Serious concerns regarding detainee care.’ Detainees at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Arizona filed hundreds of grievances about mistreatment, including use-of-force incidents, according to a watchdog report, which concluded that violations threatened the health, safety and rights of those at the facility.
Keep an eye on this bipartisan bill. Key House lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation that would address repeated funding and resource shortfalls that occur during large upswings in the number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.
See the disturbing conditions up close. Children lying side by side in plastic-lined pods. Shelves stocked with supplies, including baby bottles and diapers. Girls huddled together in a playpen – where they’ll also sleep at night – singing and coloring with crayons. On Tuesday, the administration allowed a few members of the media to tour a temporary Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas.
Another temporary facility for migrant children. The Pentagon on Saturday approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily house unaccompanied children at Camp Roberts, a Central California training site for the California Army National Guard.
The human cost. A 10-year-old Honduran girl was reunited with her mom for the first time in six years. Here’s their story.
‘There’s trauma, especially in the children’
As the Biden administration scrambles to safely accommodate the record number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, the President has garnered criticism from both sides over his handling of the crisis.
As of Wednesday, there were 4,966 children in Customs and Border Protection custody and 13,204 children in Health and Human Services custody, data released by the government shows.
So what’s driving these record numbers? And was the Biden administration prepared? What will it take to improve the situation?
On CNN’s Politically Sound podcast, CNN Political Director David Chalian spoke with Melissa Lopez, the executive director at Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services in El Paso, about the ongoing crisis and how Biden’s polices affect those crossing into the US. Listen to the whole episode here.
Why are migrants making the dangerous journey in the first place?
For starters, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on Latin America, where cases and deaths have soared and economies once projected to grow have been decimated.
But, as Lopez explains, one of the biggest contributors to migration are Central American gangs.
“The biggest thing that we hear is forced recruitment from the gangs where, you know, these criminal enterprises in Central America are trying to recruit them.
And so you either join the gang and join the criminal enterprise and then your life is at risk for that reason, or you refuse to join and then you are threatened because you refuse to join. And so these criminal enterprises really have huge impacts on people’s lives. And as a result of that, they feel like they have no choice but to seek safety somewhere else.”
Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with overseeing efforts with Central American countries to stem the flow of migrants. But the idea of building a better life in the US is strong pull for many migrants.
“You have people that are so desperate to enter the United States that they try to run in front of my car on the freeway, which has happened to me twice in the last week,” Lopez said.
“I had one gentleman that we locked eyes and thankfully he didn’t run in front of the car. And so I kind of slammed on my brakes and then he stopped, hesitated, and I was able to kind of step on the gas and get moving. And so he was able to run behind my car. And then we also have stories of clients who climb this 30 foot wall that we have here along the Southern border and feel like their only choice is to jump. And then they end up in the hospital with broken hips and broken legs. And so, I think it makes it clear that we aren’t doing enough.”
How prepared was the Biden administration?
From its earliest weeks in office, the Biden administration has been playing catch up.
“I think there was no preparation for the number of children. And I think the other complicating factor is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Lopez explained.
“And so, they’re either in crowded Border Patrol facilities, which is terrible, or they’re going to be in a shelter setting, but in likely non pandemic non-compliant conditions. And so, it’s the worst of two choices. And I would much prefer that children be in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who has more than 20 years of experience in caring for children and ensures that the settings that the children are placed in are much more friendly and take into account the fact that their children.”
Still, the Biden administration has maintained that they are working hard to improve the situation. Roberta Jacobson, the White House coordinator for the southern border, told MSNBC this week, “I think that we’re doing everything we can. This is an all-hands-on-deck challenge.”
Asked about that assessment, Lopez said, “Perhaps. But I think certainly there were a lot of warning signs that we were going to get to this point.”
“You know, there were warning signs that we were getting to a point of having, you know, thousands and thousands of people trying to enter the United States. I mean, you had a Trump administration that during the last two years, especially of the administration, the border was essentially shut to asylum seekers. And it’s well known, well documented that these individuals have been waiting in northern Mexico for the last two years to be able to enter and seek asylum. And so I think there was laser focus on undoing the “Remain in Mexico” program.
And I think in that laser focus, there was a lack of foresight at looking at the other populations that that might be affected by those policies. And so certainly I think there are efforts being made. Is everything possible being done? It’s hard to say that it is when we see daily suffering.”
This crisis isn’t ending any time soon
The Biden administration could need at least 34,100 additional beds to keep up with the projected number of unaccompanied kids arriving at the border through September, according to internal government estimates obtained by CNN.
“That is a huge number,” Lopez said.
“And not just in terms of the actual beds, but ensuring that there’s quality individuals able to care for these children, right? That you have qualified social workers and qualified medical providers and qualified legal service providers to make sure that these children are well cared for and attended to. My hope is that that we’ll see some improvements in the way that the background check process takes for sponsors, for the family members of these children, so that rather than have the need for thirty four thousand more beds, that we could more quickly reunite children with their families and avoid the need for that many beds.”
‘They are human beings’
Asked what frustrates her the most when she hears people talk about the border crisis, Lopez said it’s the lack of humanity extended to migrants who are just looking for a better life.
“The lack of really talking about each and every asylum seeker as if they’re a human being and instead referring to them as a statistic spewing these numbers and not giving context to their stories themselves. I think it’s really difficult and I’ve been doing this work for almost 14 years and I’ve said this from the beginning. You do not truly understand how terrible our immigration system is until you’ve walked through the system with somebody, whether it be you, yourself or some a family member. And to see the biases and the discrimination that exists even within the system is terrible. We’re talking about human beings who are who are suffering.
They are human beings. They are people that have suffered a great deal. And let’s start there and then we can talk about some of the other issues.”