Construction workers were seen frantically building new tent cities to house migrant children in Texas as the Biden administration announces that the San Diego Convention Center will act as a shelter for unaccompanied kids.
Workers were seen rapidly transforming a 40-acre site into what’s being reported as a permanent processing structure and shelter for unaccompanied migrant minors in Donna, Texas. Images showed pizzas being delivered into the living area of the tented facility.
Meanwhile, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and County Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher said in a joint statement that the convention center would become a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children.
‘Over the weekend, we agreed to open our Convention Center to the federal government for use as a temporary shelter,’ the statement reads.
‘The City and County will support this federally funded effort by providing vital services to these vulnerable children who came to our country seeking safety. We are working closely with our federal partners to finalize the details for preparing to receive these young people and provide them with care, compassion and a safe space to transition while they are reunited with families or sponsors,’ the statement continued.
It’s unclear when the convention center will open as a temporary home for the children. Kids up to the age of 17 will be welcomed at the center.
And while the convention center has a capacity of 125,000, it’s unclear how many children will be brought to the facility. Local hotels will also house individual adults in hotel rooms.
The number of unaccompanied migrant kids in US custody surpassed 15,000 as of Saturday as the Biden administration announced that they ‘would not expel young, vulnerable children.’ This is a reverse of Trump administration policy, which was to generally expel all people who tried to illegally cross the border, regardless of age.
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Construction workers were seen frantically building new tent cities to house migrant children in Texas as the Biden administration announces that the San Diego Convention Center will act as a shelter for the unaccompanied kids
Workers were seen rapidly transforming a 40-acre site into what’s being reported as a permanent processing structure and shelter for unaccompanied migrant minors
Employees are seen on Monday working to transform an area into a site where migrant children can be processed
Images also showed pizzas being delivered into the living area of the tented facility
A man is seen carrying 10 pizzas into the facility on Monday for migrants
Meanwhile, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and County Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher said in a joint statement that the convention center (pictured) would become a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the disturbing images of a crowded migrant ‘overflow’ tent in Texas showed what the Biden administration has said all along – the border facilities are no place for children.
‘These photos show what we’ve long been saying, which is that these border patrol facilities are not places made for children,’ she said in her press briefing on Monday.
‘They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey that is not, in our view, the right choice to make.’
Refusing to call the situation at the US southern border a crisis, Psaki added: ‘Children, presenting at our border, who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations is not a crisis.
‘We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance, and make sure they are treated and put in conditions that are safe.’
Congressman Henry Cuellar had released images from inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna over the weekend. He said 400 unaccompanied male minors are being held in ‘terrible conditions’ in a space meant to hold a maximum of 260 people.
A migrant boy launches a paper airplane while playing with other migrant children at a plaza near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge point of entry into the US after being caught trying to sneak into the country on Thursday
The pictures show inside the US Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna
Congressman Henry Cuellar released the images; he confirmed they were taken over this weekend
Rep. Cuellar said they offer an insight into the ‘terrible conditions for the children’ at the border
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the disturbing images of the cramped conditions inside a migrant ‘overflow’ tent in Texas showed what the Biden administration has said all along – the border facilities are not the place for children
Democrat Cuellar said he did not take the images but said that they offer an insight into the ‘terrible conditions for the children’ at the border, where he has recently toured a different shelter for children.
Psaki also said Monday that she didn’t know when media would be given access to the border facilities despite repeated requests by reporters to be allowed to visit.
The Biden administration has so far banned media access to the facilities amid a growing humanitarian and political crisis at the US southern border. Lawyers and lawmakers have been given tours.
‘We are working to finalize details and I hope to have an update in the coming days,’ Psaki said after admitting ‘putting in place more effective and efficient processing at the border…is going to take some time’.
Confirming that the children at the facilities had been tested for COVID Psaki said those who needed to be quarantined were separated out from the rest of the population. She didn’t have a timeline on when the president might go the border after Biden said on Sunday he would make a trip at some point.
A total of 823 unaccompanied children were held at US-Mexico border facilities for more than 10 days – more than a fourfold increase over the last week, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document leaked to Axios Sunday.
Children are not supposed to be held in border patrol custody for more than three days. As of Saturday 2,226 children had been held in custody for more than five days and 823 for more than 10 days.
Neha Desai, a lawyer for the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), told CBS about the harrowing conditions that she and her NCYL colleague Leecia Welch witnessed when they visited a tent holding facility for unaccompanied minors in Donna, Texas, last week.
She said the tent was so overcrowded that migrant children had to take turns sleeping on the floor and could only shower one time a week. The children also reported being unable to call family members, Desai said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said there would be organized trips for press to gain access to detention facilities. Later, she walked back on those comments, but promised photos to show conditions.
Then last Thursday, Psaki said the White House would not be releasing to the media photos that advisors shared with President Biden to brief him on conditions on facilities housing childhood migrants on the border.
Photojournalist John Moore recently criticized the administration for giving the media ‘zero access’ to the border operations, adding that there is ‘no modern precedent’ to cutting off the press from the border.
Cuellar said that as of Sunday 400 unaccompanied male minors were being kept in a tent meant to hold 260
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said there would be organized trips for press to gain access to detention facilities; later, she walked back on those comments and refused to share images from the facilities
‘I respectfully ask US Customs and Border Protection to stop blocking media access to their border operations,’ Moore tweeted Friday. ‘I have photographed CBP under Bush, Obama and Trump but now – zero access is granted to media. These long lens images taken from the Mexican side.’
‘There’s no modern precedent for a full physical ban on media access to CBP border operations,’ Moore continued in another tweet. ‘To those who might say, cut them some slack — they are dealing with a situation, I’d say that showing the US response to the current immigrant surge is exactly the media’s role.
‘The vast majority of river crossings by asylum seekers happen on federal land in south Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The federal [government] controls access to those areas. The Border Patrol has been removing journalists who enter, including recently myself, CBS, others.’
With the number of migrants surging, administration officials say President Biden inherited an untenable situation that resulted from what they say was former president Donald Trump’s undermining and weakening of the immigration system.
Trump, however, said Biden has simply mismanaged the border and undone the policies that kept things under control. The former president on Sunday evening called the situation at the border ‘a national disaster.’
Career immigration officials had warned there could be a surge after the November election and the news that Trump’s hard-line policies were being reversed.
Now, as Congress pivots to immigration legislation, stories of unaccompanied minors and families trying to cross the border and seek asylum and of overwhelmed border facilities have begun to dominate the headlines, distracting from the White House´s efforts to promote the recently passed $1.9trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
Biden told reporters Sunday at the White House that ‘at some point’ he would go to the border and that he knows what is going on in the border facilities.
Guatemalan travelers cross the Suchiate River, border between Guatemala and Mexico, into Mexico aboard a raft near Ciudad Hidalgo, Sunday. Mexico sent hundreds of immigration agents, police and National Guard officers marching through the streets of the capital of the southern state of Chiapas to launch an operation to crack down on migrant smuggling
Mexican immigration agents review the IDs of Guatemalan merchants at an access point to the Suchiate River, the natural border between Guatemala and Mexico, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday
The White House has steadfastly refused to call the situation a ‘crisis,’ leading to a Washington battle over the appropriate description of the tense situation. Mexican immigration agents review the IDs of Guatemalan travelers at an access point to the Suchiate River on Sunday
The White House dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to four Sunday news shows in an effort to stress that it was working to get things under control.
‘Our message has been straightforward – the border is closed,’ Mayorkas said. ‘We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. And we’ve made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children.’
The White House has steadfastly refused to call the situation a ‘crisis,’ leading to a Washington battle over the appropriate description of the tense situation.
In the first days of his term, Biden acted to undo some of Trump’s measures, a rollback interpreted by some as a signal to travel to the United States. There have even been ‘Biden’ flags spotted in migrant camps in Mexico.
While the new administration was working on immigration legislation to address long-term problems, it didn’t have an on-the-ground plan to manage a surge of migrants.
‘We have seen large numbers of migration in the past. We know how to address it. We have a plan. We are executing on our plan and we will succeed,’ Mayorkas said.
But, he added, ‘it takes time’ and is ‘especially challenging and difficult now’ because of the Trump administration’s moves.
‘So we are rebuilding the system as we address the needs of vulnerable children who arrived at our borders.’
Migrants are seen in a green area outside of a soft-sided detention center in Donna, Texas on Friday
The White House has steadfastly refused to call the situation a ‘crisis,’ leading to a Washington battle over the appropriate description of the tense situation. The immigration processing facility in Donna, Texas is pictured
Guatemalan travelers return to Tecun Uman, Guatemala as they wade across the Suchiate River. Agents are forcing those with permission to enter Mexico for work or a visit to use the official border crossing bridge and those who do not are being returned to Guatemala, as they enforce new limits on all but essential travel at its shared border with Guatemala
Career immigration officials had warned there could be a surge after the November election and the news that Trump’s hard-line policies were being reversed
Mexican immigration agents review the identifications of Guatemalan women on Sunday
Biden officials have done away with the ‘kids in cages’ imagery that defined the Trump family separation policy – though Trump used facilities built during the Obama administration – but have struggled with creating the needed capacity to deal with the surge.
Officials are trying to build up capacity to care for some 15,000 migrants now in federal custody – and more likely on the way. Critics say the administration should have been better prepared.
‘I haven’t seen a plan,’ said Rep Michael McCaul, R-Texas. ‘They have created a humanitarian crisis down here at this border that you have seen now. And the reason why they are coming is because he says words do matter, and they do. The messaging is that if you want to come, you can stay.’
Since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, the US has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials.
There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February – an increase of 168 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center.
Among the reasons for the surge: thousands of Central American migrants already stuck at the border for months and the persistent scourge of gang violence afflicting Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Still, the encounters of both unaccompanied minors and families are lower than they were at various points during the Trump administration, including in spring 2019.
The Biden administration has banned media access to the facilities amid a growing humanitarian and political crisis at the US southern border. Photojournalist John Moore recently criticized the administration for giving the media ‘zero access’ to the border operations, adding that there is ‘no modern precedent’ to cutting off the press from the border
Mexico sent hundreds of immigration agents, police and National Guard to its southern border to launch an operation to crack down on migrant smuggling
Mexican immigration agents review the identification of a Guatemalan woman at an access point to the Suchiate River, the natural border between Guatemala and Mexico, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday
Pointing to the urgency of the situation at the border, Sen Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, expressed confidence that enough Republicans would vote to pass an immigration overhaul.
‘We go into this debate, whether it’s a crisis or a challenge at the border. Let me tell you, the crisis. We need to address our immigration laws in this country that are broken,’ said Durbin.
Migrant children are sent from border holding cells to other government facilities until they are released to a sponsor.
That process was slowed considerably by a Trump administration policy of ‘enhanced vetting,’ in which details were sent to immigration officials and some sponsors wound up getting arrested, prompting some to fear picking up children over worries of being deported.
Biden has reversed that policy, so immigration officials hope the process will speed up now.
The White House also points to Biden’s decision to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support efforts to process the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.