Multiple outlets are reporting that as of Tuesday, a record 3,250 migrant children are being detained in US Customs and Border Protection. The southern border has seen a surge in unaccompanied minors traveling from Central America over the last two weeks, and President Joe Biden’s promise of a more humane approach to immigration laws is facing a new test. The New York Times reports that many of the children are “being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.”
The administration faces a dilemma brought on by a rush of people seeking rescue from violence and poverty in their own communities and the limitations put in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Under law, minors detained at the border are supposed to be moved to Health and Human Services Department facilities until they can be either connected with the friends or family they are trying to meet or a safe home can be found. But until last week, those shelters had severely limited capacities to maintain social distancing requirements.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to confirm the New York Times’ numbers but did say the Biden Administration is facing a challenge. “Look, I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging,” she said, when asked if the situation was a crisis.
Biden has promised to modernize the U.S.’ decades-old immigration and refugee system by strategically loosening restrictions along the border and streamlining the pathway to citizenship, but the unprecedented number of global refugees may complicate his efforts to adequately and fund staff this new approach. The Biden Administration’s use of detention facilities for migrant children has frustrated progressive voters who had hoped Trump’s electoral loss signaled the end of detaining children. Activists are pressuring the White House to work faster on reuniting detained children with their parents, signaling that it’s not enough for Biden to change his predecessor’s tone — they want to see different actions as well.