Biden transition team warned about urgent need to increase space for unaccompanied kids, report says


NBC News reports that the recommendations from the transition team last year were “based on a growing trend of unaccompanied minors crossing the border that began to emerge in the late fall, and it was communicated to Trump officials in multiple meetings, multiple times a week.” But the report said that the previous administration was apparently confident it didn’t need to increase HHS capacity.

That administration had for most of 2020 been using the novel coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to block unaccompanied children from their asylum rights, in a Stephen Miller-pushed policy that was subsequently blocked by a federal judge in November. Pandemic restrictions also lowered capacity limits at HHS facilities, but the administration “did not account for Covid-19 social distancing restrictions that would keep facilities from using every bed available,” the report said.

Continued warnings went unheeded, with one official telling NBC News it was “irresponsible of the Trump administration not to listen to us when we were throwing up red flags.” But while that former administration was also sitting on its hands, it’s not hard to believe that it was also setting the stage to point fingers.

As far back as the summer of 2020, former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan was on state television warning about a so-called “Biden effect.” BuzzFeed News immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz on Wednesday also noted that a court filing from ORR’s former acting director was “basically predicting that capacity would be an issue back in November.”

Months later, former unlawfully appointed acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is chastising the Biden administration in a deeply flawed report from The Washington Post, saying, “[t]hey should have been better prepared.” Unlawful Chad claimed in the report that there were meetings with transition officials, but also admits he didn’t participate in them. Maybe he was too busy avoiding discussing the threat of white supremacist violenceOr maybe busy trying to prevent the violent insurrection of Jan. 6?

Per recent numbers from CBS News, about 11,000 unaccompanied children were in HHS custody as of last weekend. Another 5,000 children were in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) waiting to be transferred to HHS, with many being held beyond the legal time limit. In an effort to get kids out of these border facilities as quickly as possible while they wait to be placed with sponsors (who are often parents or relatives already here), the Biden administration has begun holding some in convention centers and so-called influx facilities. 

But because they’re unlicensed, advocates have urged that they be used only when there are no other options, and for as short a time as possible. “When government custody is the only option, children should be placed in small, licensed, non-profit shelters or foster care,” Katy Murdza writes for Immigration Impact. “Influx shelters should be a last resort.”

“To reduce the time children spend in ORR custody, measures can be taken to release them as quickly as possible to family members or guardians that meet the legal protections for child safety,” Murdza continues. “A positive recent example is ORR’s announcement that it would pay for a child’s flight to their destination if a sponsor’s ability to pay was delaying their release. But more measures must be taken.” The Biden administration also recently issued guidance intended to speed up the safe release of children who have parents or relatives who are already in the U.S.

“If this is successfully executed, it will have a great impact on the number of kids in custody,” tweeted Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney and advocate for detained children. 

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