On Thursday, the White House Press Secretary defended the Biden administration’s decision to reopen a temporary Texas facility for unaccompanied children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, extra space that officials said was needed to comply with COVID-19 protocols.
The reopening of the facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which can hold up to 700 teenagers, faced backlash from some Democrats this week, some likening it to the previous administration’s housing of kids "in cages."
No children are detained in cells or behind chain-link fencing at Carrizo Springs, which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. While they have beds, classrooms and dining areas, surge facilities cost an estimated $775 per child per day and are not subject to the same licensing requirements as regular facilities.
On Thursday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said opening the shelter was the "best option," instead of sending kids back across the border or to foster families that haven’t been vetted.
"Our best option, in our view, is to get these kids processed through HHS facilities where there are COVID protocols in place, where they are safe, where they can have access to educational and medical care," Psaki said in a White House press briefing.
The facility reopened for extra space, since HHS has drastically cut its capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly all of the department’s 7,100 beds for immigrant children are full. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day.
Under President Donald Trump, border patrol agents turned back nearly all immigrants that crossed the border under pandemic restrictions, which are still in place. While the Biden administration continues to turn away families and adults, they are taking a new approach with unaccompanied minors.
“There are children fleeing prosecution, fleeing threats in their own countries, traveling on their own,” Psaki said Thursday. “Our focus is on approaching this from the view of humanity and from and with safety in mind.”
The Carrizo Springs facility is meant to prevent migrant children from being kept for long periods at border patrol facilities, which are not set up for long-term care and often result in cold, unsanitary conditions.
On Thursday, Press Secretary Psaki promised that there would be briefings on the border facilities available to members of Congress, some of which sharply criticized the new facility this week.
She also noted that all facilities are following CDC guidelines, including physical distancing, and that children would have access to medical and mental health care.
The restrictions on non-essential travel across the U.S.-Mexico and Canadian borders are currently set to expire on March 21. On Thursday, the press secretary said there would “soon” be new guidance from the State Department on the border restrictions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.