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Biden administration tells facilities for migrant children to reopen to pre-pandemic levels

The increase in the arrival of unaccompanied children puts an additional strain on the immigration system, which operates with limited capacity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We recognize the challenge of getting these unaccompanied children to cross the border and the influx we are certainly preparing for and preparing to approach,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

The Department of Health and Humanitarian Affairs is tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children until they are placed with a sponsor, such as a parent or relative, in the United States, but with precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on site, the department is in able to use just over half of the beds available for children.

Approximately 7,700 unaccompanied children are in HHS care. The department has about 1

3,650 beds for children when they are not with reduced capacity.

A separate document prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the situation an “emergency” and said that “facilities must plan and expect to have cases of COVID-19”, citing the nature of the pandemic and acknowledging that “there is no 0% risk scenario. “

CNN reported this week that children have been in the custody of a border patrol for an average of more than three days, with predominant capacity at border facilities. The average time in border patrol facilities not designed to hold children was 77 hours, longer than the 72 allowed by U.S. law.

Friday’s note highlights the Biden administration’s challenge to keep children away from the border patrol.

“The additional capacity of the shelters will minimize the likelihood that children will stay in border patrols longer than necessary, where they are also exposed to risks of COVID-19 transmission, as well as child welfare concerns related to such settings. of children from [Office of Refugee Resettlement] programming sites that can operate at full licensed capacity with comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation measures in place, “the note said.

“Today, based on CDC guidelines, ORR has notified facilities that can temporarily activate capacity to their full licensed capacity up to safe employment levels,” the note continued, stressing that reactivation of beds must be done in a safe manner. The Resettlement Office is the federal HHS agency in charge of caring for migrant children.

Exceptional: Unaccompanied children held by a border patrol for an average of 77 hours show internal documents

The CDC document advises shelters to introduce mitigation measures for Covid-19, such as the use of masks, distancing, cleaning and disinfection, improved ventilation, increased testing and vaccination for children over 16 years of age.

HHS also recently opened a Texas overflow facility to accommodate children arriving at the southern U.S. border without a parent or relative until they can be relocated with their family to the United States.

“We need to look for facilities and places where we can safely and humanely accommodate these unaccompanied minors temporarily,” Psaki told reporters on Friday.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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