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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is only operating at a little more than 50% amid the COVID-19 pandemic at the Southern border. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is only operating at a little more than 50% amid the COVID-19 pandemic at the Southern border. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

The Biden admin faces a crush at the U.S.-Mexico border

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services says it can only use a little over half of its full capacity, and is already 94%…

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From the very beginning, Biden has made immigration reform one of his top legislative and diplomatic priorities, swiftly raising limits on the number of refugees allowed in U.S. each year, and introducing a far-reaching bill that would give 11 million undocumented individuals a path to citizenship. 

Facing an uptick of illegal migrant crossings at some parts of the southwestern border, the Biden administration is racing to find space to house families as well as unaccompanied minors.

Biden has requested that senior officials visit the U.S-Mexico border to give him updates on the unfolding situation, so that the government can properly respond to this influx of minors and take steps to ensure their safety and care. 

His administration has been facing criticism from Democrats and immigration advocates who claim that unaccompanied children and families are being held too long in detention centers instead of being released as their asylum applications are reviewed. 

On Tuesday, March 2, Border Control already had more than 1,300 children in custody awaiting placement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — about 300 more than the day before. A senior official from HHS told CNN that they are struggling to keep up.

HHS is in charge of caring for unaccompanied migrant children until they’re placed with a sponsor like a parent or relative in the states. 

But as a result of the pandemic, the department’s capacity is severely limited. They’re only able to use a little more than half of the beds available, meaning capacity is already 94% full. 

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted on Monday that the administration is facing a unique challenge as it attempts to establish new policies and manage the growing number of migrants coming through. 

Mayorkas told reporters that it’s been very stressful to address the urgency of the issue while also building the capacity to manage it. He noted that the Trump administration “gutted” the U.S. immigration system and that it is going to take time to “rebuild the system from scratch.” 

The HHS is brainstorming ideas on how to house children while they wait to be placed with a sponsor. 

They plan to adjust guidelines in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to supply more beds by loosening some restrictions that were applied early in the pandemic 

This includes double masking, encouraging staff to receive a vaccine, adding more testing, allowing more than one child to be in a room, and creating more licensed facilities. 

It’s clear that Biden and his team are taking seriously the pressing issues of immigration and doing their best to prioritize the safety and care for those seeking a better life for themselves, but as Mayorkas implied, it is not a simple process.

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