WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to reopen a controversial overflow facility to house unaccompanied migrant teenagers as the government grapples with the possibility of a surge in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, will house up to 700 migrant children within the next two weeks, according to a statement Tuesday from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for migrant children. The temporary Influx Care Facility will be used for children ages 13 and older who have been medically cleared of COVID-19, the statement said.
The move came after President Joe Biden signed a raft of executive orders aimed at unwinding the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, including establishing a task force to reunify children separated from their parents or guardians at the border under former President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
As he seeks to fulfill his campaign promise to swiftly undo Trump’s immigration actions, Biden is facing hurdles because of the rise in migrant apprehensions at the Southwest border and reduced capacity at facilities over COVID-19 concerns.
A White House official said the flow of unaccompanied minors presenting themselves border preceded the Biden administration but said the pandemic has posed a challenge in the maximum number of children a facility can hold.
“The pandemic requires us to rethink capacity and to be extra cautious about COVID-19 protocol and social distancing, not just in the context of unaccompanied minors but also what processes and staff presence is going to look at a potential facility,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two other orders signed Tuesday call for placing Trump-era immigration policies under review – rather than outright ending the practices – including the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “remain in Mexico” policy, that forced migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while waiting to plead their case before a judge.