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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki got into a major spat with reporters over the administration's decision to bring back migrant children detention centers. Photo: Getty Images

Biden takes a step back on immigration for reopening migrant child detention centers

Pandemic or not, the Biden administration is flying in the face of what the president promised on the campaign trail in a big way.

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The Biden White House is being accused of hypocrisy for reopening border facilities to house migrant teenagers, including one that both Biden and Harris criticized former President Trump for on multiple occasions. 

Biden condemned Trump repeatedly on the campaign trail for separating families and failing to reunite them, claiming during an October debate that migrant children were “ripped from their [parents’] arms and separated.”

In 2018, Harris, then a senator, described Trump’s ill treatment of migrants as a “crime against humanity.” 

But on Monday, Feb. 22, the Department of Health and Human Services reopened a facility in Texas to house up to 700 migrants ages 13 to 17. A second facility is also being reopened in Florida. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki found herself in a heated exchange with reporters when she was pressed about the issue. Psaki insisted that the reopening of the migrant centers is a temporary solution for unaccompanied minors that was necessitated by the pandemic. 

“Our intention is very much to close it, but we want to make sure we can follow COVID protocols. Our goal is for them to then be transferred to families or sponsors,” Psaki explained. 

When a reporter pointed out the hypocrisy, Psaki defended the decision by saying that “this is not kids being kept in cages.” She maintained that the updated facilities are not meant to be a replication of the inhumane nature of what transpired under Trump’s administration. 

“We need to find places that are safe, under COVID protocols, for kids to be where they can have access to education, health and mental services, consistent with their best interests,” she said. 

Government officials stand by the claim that the centers are needed because the current facilities for migrant children have been cut in capacity by nearly half due to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has been slowly rising. 

But immigration lawyers and advocates are still curious as to why the Biden administration chose to reactivate a Trump-era facility that was once the source of major controversy and protest. 

Mark Weber, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that the Biden administration is distancing itself from the “law-enforcement focused” approach of the Trump administration to one that actually focuses on child welfare. 

At the 66-acre site, there are groups of beige trailers, a soccer field, a basketball court and a hospital tent. The legal services trailer has a banner with “Bienvenidos” written on it. There are trailers for classrooms, a barber shop, a hair salon, and the facility has its own ambulances, firetrucks and a water supply. 

Despite the drastic changes in the setup and approach, many lawyers, politicians and advocates are far from pleased. 

Rosey Abuabara, a San Antonio community activist who was arrested for protesting outside a camp in 2019, cried when she first heard of the reopening. 

“I consoled myself with the fact that it was considered the Cadillac of [migrant child] centers, but I don’t have hope that Biden is going to make it any better,” Abuabara said. 

“It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes against absolutely everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do,” said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer who represents unaccompanied minors. “It’s a step backward, is what it is.”

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