Despite the Biden administration excoriating its predecessor's border policies and refusing to declare an immigration "crisis," more illegal immigrant children are being held in detention centers than ever before.
More than 3,200 unaccompanied children are in Customs and Border Protection custody, a U.S. official told Reuters, including 2,600 who are awaiting a minors shelter that has only 500 beds available, per a CNN report.
The number is more than 4 times the count reported just 2 weeks ago.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Tuesday's daily briefing the bed shortage is partially due to COVID-19 protocols on social distancing, saying the Biden administration is seeking a more "humane" solution than the Trump administration had.
"We know merely by the numbers that there is going to be a need, because we have a large number of kids, unaccompanied children who are coming across the border," Psaki said. "We've made a policy decision as an administration that the humane and moral approach is to keep these kids safe and get them into facilities that are safe.
She added: "It is an area of policy discussion how we will be able to accommodate in a safe and humane way these kids, and our objective remains moving them as quickly as possible out of the border patrol facilities."
But, under former President Donald Trump, there were never as many unaccompanied children detained at the border as there are currently.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement "is aggressively working with our interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are safe and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible," a Health and Human Services official told CNN in a statement Monday.
"The number of unaccompanied children in our care is constantly changing," HHS added.
The majority of the unaccompanied children detained are age 13 or older, according to CNN, which added the average time of detention is 77 hours. U.S. law permits child detention to last no longer than 72 hours, but more than 1,300 children were in custody longer than law permits, per the documents reviewed by CNN.
The border stations were built to house adult men for short periods and could pose a COVID-19 health risk to children and staff if they grow overcrowded. Last week, U.S. health officials lifted coronavirus-related capacity restrictions on shelters for unaccompanied minors to alleviate the housing crunch, but beds have been filling up quickly.
Biden, a Democrat who took office seven weeks ago, pledged to undo many of Trump's policies. In February he began allowing unaccompanied minors arriving at the border to enter the country. They had previously been sent back to Mexico or rapidly deported under a Trump-era order known as Title 42.
Republicans have savaged Biden for rolling back Trump's policies, saying his administration has encouraged illegal immigration. At the same time, Democrats have criticized Biden for keeping some Trump policies and for reopening an emergency shelter in Texas that was used under Trump – after years of criticism by opponents who said it was inhumane.
The arrival numbers resemble previous surges of unaccompanied minors and families in 2014 and 2019, according to officials and experts. The roughly 3,600 children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody is up from around 800 on Feb. 22.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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