Federal agencies ranging from the the Department of Health and Human Services to the Pentagon are working to address a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children at the U.S-Mexico border, a problem that President Obama last month described as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
The Obama administration has estimated that the U.S. will pick up 60,000 unaccompanied children at the Southwest border by the end of September, although revised Border Patrol estimates now put the figure closer to 90,000. Either way, the numbers have been doubling since at least 2012, as the chart below demonstrates.
Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the influx of children, with nearly 49 percent of that money going toward HHS to provide shelter and care for the immigrants. Already, the administration plans to spend nearly $870 million to provide for the children, according to an HHS fact sheet.
As lawmakers debate whether to approve the president’s request, the Department of Homeland Security, HHS and the Defense Department are busy finding ways to shelter the unaccompanied children. Here’s where they plan to house the children.
Big box stores, airport hangars, etc.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent mass e-mails to advocacy groups nationwide soliciting potential detention facilities, according to a New Republic article. The agency said it would consider sites such as warehouses, big-box stores, shopping malls with interior concourses, airport hangars and dorms, the report said.
HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said the administration plans to use those facilities to transfer children from the Department of Homeland Security to HHS. He said federal agencies are considering “a wide range of facilities” to determine whether they can “feasibly provide temporary shelter space for children.” He did not respond to a question about whether the agencies have already identified viable options.
The federal government has approximately 100 permanent shelters for unaccompanied children near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Central processing center
Customs and Border Protection last week opened a centralized processing center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where the vast majority of children have crossed the border.
The Rio Grande facility can house approximately 1,000 children while they wait to be transferred to Health and Human Services, according to Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron. Border Patrol agents and medical staff will provide safety, security and basic medical care for the kids, Catron said.
Friends and family
The Obama administration has proposed releasing thousands of detained children to live temporarily with friends and family members throughout the country as they await processing, a plan that has prompted concern among governors from both parties.
quoted Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, saying his state’s citizens “already feel burdened by all kinds of challenges” and that they “don’t want to see another burden come into their state.” He added that the government should deal with the crisis in a “cost-effective way.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick offered limited support for the administration’s proposal, saying last week that his state should do what it can without exceeding its capacity for assistance, according to a report from a Boston CBS affiliate. “I don’t think as a commonwealth that we can turn away and turn our backs to children who are coming from desperate situations,” he said.
In Congress, GOP lawmakers have questioned the administration’s decision to house thousands of the unaccompanied children at military bases. The plan has been in effect since May, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expanded it last week by approving a request to house an additional 5,000 children, in addition to the 3,600 already already held at military facilities.
Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, consisting of seven Republicans, called on the administration to reconsider the plan on Monday, saying it could impede the mission of Fort Sill, an Army base in the state.
The administration is also holding children at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas and at Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme in California, according to the HHS fact sheet.