(Headline USA) As President Joe Biden’s crisis of unaccompanied minors explodes at the border, the administration announced Friday that it planned to lift the cap on long-term detention centers, despite ongoing concerns about the spread of coronavirus among illegal immigrants.
A memo issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells service providers to “temporarily increase capacity to full licensed capacity … while implementing and adhering to strict COVID-19 mitigation measures.”
It’s not immediately clear how many beds will come available beyond the roughly 7,000 that were online last month. HHS’ fully licensed capacity was over 13,000 beds late last year.
Biden’s disastrous policy mirrors that of the Obama administration, which made clear that it would not enforce federal deportation laws for those under a certain age. As a result, parents are entrusting their children to coyotes and other human traffickers to smuggle them across the border.
A devastating accident earlier this week killed more than a dozen illegals after their SUV, which was believed to be carrying 25, collided with a semi-truck while careening from the border in Imperial County, California.
A separate report this week acknowledged that more than 100 coronavirus-positive illegals had been released into the country.
However, newly appointed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas maintains that there is no problem at the border, and the administration is likely to continue the policies—or lack thereof—to save face if nothing else after Biden spent his first day in office reversing former president Donald Trump’s effective border policies.
Trump issued a statement slamming Biden for the “spiraling tsunami” of illegal immigration, which took only about six weeks to achieve.
“When I left office, we had achieved the most secure border in our country’s history.,” Trump said. “Under Biden, it will soon be worse, more dangerous, and more out of control than ever before. He has violated his oath of office to uphold our Constitution and enforce our laws.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of children waiting to be placed in HHS’ system are being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in tent facilities or large, cold cells unequipped to hold minors.
Images and stories of packed Border Patrol cells in 2018 and 2019 sparked outrage, with accounts of families and young children fending for themselves without adequate food and water.
Lifting pandemic-related caps could increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus within HHS facilities, especially as far more children enter the system.
“Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no 0% risk scenario, particularly in congregate settings,” says the memo, first reported by CNN. “Therefore, ORR facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases.”
Ironically, one saving grace for Biden is the scientific evidence that children pose a minuscule risk of transmission and that few—generally only those with other mitigating risk factors—face serious adverse symptoms from the virus.
But the policy is creating chaos in other areas, too, such as the massive price tag that will result and questions over whose obligation it will be to pay.
HHS has previously authorized facility operators to bill the government for travel expenses when a child is released to a parent or other sponsor. Some families cannot easily afford the hundreds of dollars to fly a child and a guardian, and disputes over payment can sometimes delay a child’s release for several days.
Agents are apprehending around 400 children a day unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, a sharp increase since last month. There are concerns that those numbers will continue to rise.
In his statement, Trump called on the current administration to continue the progress on his border wall, which may yet ease the crisis and save the Biden legacy.
“Despite being delayed by years of litigation and politics by the democrats, the wall is almost finished and can be quickly completed,” Trump said. “Doing so will save thousands of lives.”
But his appeal was roundly dismissed by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said she had no intention of circling back to the last administration.
“We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane but ineffective over the last four years,” she said. “We’re going to chart our own path forward, and that includes treating children with humanity and respect and ensuring they’re safe when they cross our borders.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press