Unaccompanied children arriving at the border from Mexico who have parents or guardians already in the US are to be fast-tracked for release to ease overcrowding at shelters, according to a memo seen by CBS.
The order on Monday from the Department of Health and Human Services’s refugee agency comes after the number of children being held in US custody ballooned to nearly 15,500 on Sunday.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency within Health and Human Services charged with housing migrants, has been struggling to accept any new intake from Customs and Border Protection.
This has led to a bottleneck at CBP, who are holding thousands of children for longer than the legally allowed period of 72 hours.
In an internal memo obtained by CBS News, the refugee agency ordered staff at its shelters to release some children into the care of relatives in the United States.
Entire families are packed beside each other in the makeshift facilities
Families, including young kids, are being fed at a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas. A new directive states they should be fast-tracked for release from refugee agency shelters
A children’s play pen with trucks, dolls and an alphabet game has been set up inside a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, to ease the harshness of the environment
Young migrant children wait in line at a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas. The photo, taken on March 17, was taken as an explosion in the number of children seeking asylum in the United States caused a bottleneck at makeshift border patrol facilities
The refugee agency told staff at its shelters that children designated as ‘category 1’ minors, those who have parents or legal guardians in the US willing to house them, were eligible to have their release expedited.
The only exceptions would be in the case of ‘extremely vulnerable’ children, if the parents of legal guardians seeking to sponsor them were identified as having ‘red flags’, or if they required legally-mandated home study.
Shelters were authorized to cover the costs of parents traveling to collect the children.
DailyMail.com has contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement to seek comment about the new policy.
Figures leaked at the weekend from the CBP showed the extent of the prolonged, illegal stays at their facilities.
A young girl and woman watch on as border workers attempt to process some of the thousands of migrant families arriving at the southern border
New images from inside the temporary processing facilities at Donna, Texas, shows Customs and Border Patrol staff completing paperwork for new arrivals
Under a court order, minors must be removed from the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection within 72 hours and moved to shelters run by the Health and Human Services Department until a relative or other approved sponsor can claim them.
But as of Saturday, 2,226 children had been held in custody for more than five days and 823 for more than 10 days.
Border agency records indicate that children are spending an average of 136 hours – more than five days – in CBP custody.
Construction workers are racing to build new tent cities in Texas to house migrant children.
Thousands of miles away in California, the Biden administration announced that the San Diego Convention Center will act as a shelter for unaccompanied kids.
Housing facilities for unaccompanied migrant minors have been pushed to the brink as border officials encountered an average of 500 children and teens per day over the past three weeks.
The large numbers of teenage boys arriving at the border are given food and drinks by CBP staff
Migrant children stand in line inside a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, to get access to essentials while other children held in cage-like tents look on and wait their turn
The CBP finally released photos Tuesday as it claimed it wants to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’
Since a rush of arrivals of the refugee agency has been trying to reopen shelters closed during the pandemic.
It is currently housing more than 11,000 children, including 1,500 at a makeshift camp in Dallas.
On Tuesday, the US Customs and Border Protection was forced to release its own photos from inside crowded migrant facilities after a Texas Democrat beat them to it by sharing images of the ‘terrible conditions for children’ at the border.
The images showed children packed inside pens and forced to sleep on the floors in foil blankets as it claimed it wants to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’ – while still telling ‘external visitors’ not to visit the facilities to see the conditions for themselves.
Biden administration officials considered allowing media visits but then downgraded this to say they would only share some photos with the press, before walking back on granting any insight altogether.
Video taken inside the facility in El Paso, Texas, shows migrants lying on mattresses on the floor with foil blankets
The migrants are forced to exist cheek-by-jowl as they await their claims being processed
On Monday, White House Press Secretary said journalists will eventually be able to tour the detention centers after Rep. Henry Cuellar released photos of the temporary facility in Donna, Texas, and slammed the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis.’
No timeline for media trips was given and the Biden administration continues to push the official line that there is ‘no crisis’.
The CBP said it was sharing the images in an effort to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’ in the wake of a backlash.
‘CBP continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border,’ it said in a statement Tuesday.
‘In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability.’
This comes one day after Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar shared images from inside the Donna facility taken over the weekend as he said 400 unaccompanied male minors are being held in ‘terrible conditions’ in a space meant to hold a maximum of 260 people.
Cuellar said he did not take the images but said they offer an insight into the ‘terrible conditions for the children’ at the border, where he has recently toured a different shelter for children.
The Biden Administration’s policy towards unaccompanied migrant children has been to allow them to stay while their claims are processed.
This was a reversal of the Trump policy of deporting anyone who attempted to enter the United States, regardless of their age.