The Biden administration plans to open a second facility to house migrant children in Texas amid a surge in minors traveling across the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) said in a statement that the second facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, will have the capacity to house 500 children, with the possibility of additional semi-permanent housing in the future.
The official said the facility will open when it “is ready to safely receive children,” adding it will serve as another location to “ensure children are moved into ORR shelters, where children receive educational, medical, mental health, and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors without undue delay.”
The announcement comes after the Biden administration faced bipartisan criticism for reopening a Trump-era facility for migrant children, also in Carrizo Springs, last month.
While lawmakers and immigration advocates accused President Biden of hypocrisy after condemning the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants at the border, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that the use of the facility for migrant children was a “temporary reopening during COVID-19.”
“To ensure the health and safety of these kids, [HHS] took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity where these kids can be provided the care they need before they are safely placed with families and sponsors," she added.
Psaki said the Carrizo Springs location, which was open for one month under the Trump administration, was needed to adhere to social distancing guidelines amid the pandemic.
The original Carrizo Springs facility houses up to 700 migrants ages 13 to 17, and while the ORR spokesperson said Tuesday that the office has “worked to build up its licensed bed capacity to about 13,500 beds" they said that "additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the increasing numbers of UC referrals from DHS.”
The spokesperson added that it is implementing certain measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children in the facilities, including implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies, reducing the amount of time it take to unify an unaccompanied minor with a sponsor and establishing emergency intake sites to reduce overcrowding in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities.
All children age 17 and younger who are found unaccompanied at the Southern border are transferred from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the HHS refugee office.
The plans shared by the ORR spokesperson come the same day the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed that HHS has asked the Pentagon to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at two Texas military installations.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not specify while speaking to reporters if the request included the number of children that would be housed at each location, adding he had not seen the document and referring further questions to HHS.
Biden has also faced scrutiny over the conditions in migrant facilities, with most outside visitors, including members of the press, denied access inside.