More than 60 Democratic lawmakers called on the Biden administration Tuesday to eventually end reliance on overflow facilities for unaccompanied migrant children, according to a letter shared with CNN.
Some Democrats have been critical of the use of influx facilities, which are not state-licensed and have previously come under scrutiny. The Health and Human Services Department will often rely on those facilities when the shelter network it oversees is not sufficient to house a growing number of children at the border.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state led lawmakers, with the backing of local, state and national organizations, in underscoring the need for safe processing of minors who cross the US-Mexico border alone and in urging changes.
“In many cases, they have fled to the United States in search of humanitarian relief from extreme violence, sexual abuse, and other dangers in their countries of origin. Unaccompanied children’s well-being—and often their lives—depend on their treatment by the U.S. government,” the letter states.
The letter is addressed to the secretaries of the Health and Human Services Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as heads of relevant federal agencies. Signatories include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Veronica Escobar and Joaquin Castro of Texas.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has had to rely on pop-up sites, including an influx facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, to keep up with the sheer number of unaccompanied children arriving at the US southern border.
In March, US Customs and Border Protection apprehended a record number of unaccompanied minors, with 18,890 in March – nearly double that of February, according to the agency’s latest data. That number is expected to climb.
While lawmakers recognize the challenges facing the Biden administration in their letter, they stress the importance of reforming the system, which has come under strain this year.
“More broadly, now is the moment for the Administration to take up long-overdue systemic reform of the border reception and shelter system for unaccompanied children—reform that would eliminate any need for influx facilities in the future,” the letter states, outlining a series of policies that should be adopted, if they haven’t been already.
Those policies include limiting the duration of a child’s stay in an influx facility to 20 days and ensuring children have access to in-person visitation and to legal service providers, as well as establishing an Office of the Ombudsperson “to act as an advocate,” in addition to regular on-site monitoring visits.
The Biden administration is spending at least $62 million a week to care for unaccompanied migrant children in HHS custody, according to government data.
The daily cost per child is more than twice that of the department’s already established shelter program – at approximately $775 per day, compared with around $290 per day – according to figures shared with CNN. HHS cited the need to develop facilities and hire staff over a short period among the reasons why temporary shelters are more costly.