Washington — The Biden administration is planning to reopen a site near the border with Mexico to house migrant children who enter the country without their parents as the federal government struggles to accommodatethere, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter told CBS News Thursday.
The site, a former work camp in Carrizo Springs, Texas, could start housing unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody as early as Friday, the U.S. officials said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. While the same location was used in 2021 to house migrant teenagers, it will include additional facilities and higher standards of care this time around.
It will be the second time in less than two months that the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, has reopened a so-called “influx care facility” for unaccompanied children, who have been crossing the U.S. southern border in larger numbers in recent weeks. Last month, HHShousing migrant children at another former work camp for oil workers in Pecos, Texas, that was at the center of reports of poor conditions in 2021.
Under federal law, U.S. border officials must transfer unaccompanied children who are not from Mexico to HHS within 72 hours of processing them. HHS is bound by law to take care of them until they reach legal age, or until they can be placed with a sponsor in the U.S., who is generally a relative.
Historically, HHS has housed migrant children in shelters licensed by state child welfare authorities. But over the past several years, amid spikes in border crossings under Republican and Democratic administrations, the department has turned to “influx care facilities” and other sites to house migrant children in locations with more capacity. Unlike traditional shelters, influx sites are not licensed by states to house minors.
Starting this summer, the number of migrant children crossing the U.S. southern border increased sharply, amid a broader spike in migrant arrivals that has strained federal, state and local resources, including in large cities like New York and Chicago.
HHS received more than 12,000 migrant children in September and 13,000 in August, compared to around 9,400 in July, according to internal HHS data obtained by CBS News. As of Thursday morning, HHS was housing 10,960 unaccompanied minors, a 75% increase from early July, when it had around 6,000 migrant children in its custody, federal figures show.
Record numbers of migrant children have crossed the U.S. southern border over the past two years, creating significant logistical and humanitarian challenges to the Biden administration. In fiscal year 2022, HHS received a record 128,904 unaccompanied minors, up from 122,731 in the prior year, agency statistics show. The vast majority of these children have hailed from northern Central America.
Soon after Mr. Biden took office in Jan. 2021, child migration spiked, leading to dangerous overcrowding in the small number of Border Patrol facilities designed to temporarily hold migrant children and families. In response, the administration set up makeshift shelters in convention centers, military bases and work camps, including the Dimmit Emergency Intake Site, the location of the facility set to open this week.
While the emergency shelters reduced overcrowding in border facilities, some of them quickly became the subject of allegations, including from internal whistleblowers, that described substandard living conditions, inadequate services and emotional distress among the children there.
At a tent complex inside the Fort Bliss Army base in west Texas,about the mental health of migrant children housed there were so distressing that officials constantly monitored them for escape attempts and panic attacks. The children were also prohibited from having toothbrushes or other ordinary items that they could potentially use to harm themselves.
Children in HHS custody are not detained in jail-like detention centers or cells. While there are some more restrictive facilities for troubled youth, most unaccompanied children in HHS care are housed in shelters that provide educational, recreational, medical and mental health services.