EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Government officials and advocates were at Fort Bliss on Monday to address the status of the emergency intake facility housing unaccompanied migrant children.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was in town on a follow-up visit and says meaningful progress has been made in just a few months.
There were about 4,400 unaccompanied migrant girls and boys at the Fort Bliss emergency intake site when it opened a few months ago. Today, Becerra was informed that the figure is down to 790 migrant boys.
“The importance of that number is to explain two things: One, the progress that has been made to make sure that we are providing the best care for these kids while they’re in our temporary custody; And two, it shows the progress that has been made to relieve not only the overcrowding we were witnessing when I first became Secretary in March of this year at the Customs and Border Protection facilities to where we are today,” Becerra said.
The decline in the number of children at the emergency intake facilities comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection continue to see reduced numbers of unaccompanied migrant children encountered on a daily basis.
Data from June 27, 2021 shows that 444 unaccompanied migrant children were apprehended and the 30-day average number continues to decline.
Still, advocates say it’s not enough.
“We need to make this a priority,” says Diana Martinez, an advocate who was protesting with the Border Network for Human Rights during Becerra’s visit.
“The facility is not handling the children well,” affirmed Martinez, although both Becerra and U.S. Rep. Escobar, D-Texas, have praised the care and receptiveness of HHS personnel to provide good care to the children as the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) works to transfer them to licensed care facilities.
Advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been critical of the time it’s taken Biden administration officials to address the migrant situation, particularly in Texas.
“The consequences of not having a full immigration system that works is on full display at the border,” Becerra said.
Part of the problem started at the end of last year when the U.S. started reporting greater and greater volumes of migrants arriving at the southern border created a bottleneck effect at ORR. According to Becerra, the previous administration placed a hiring freeze at the ORR that strained the limited personnel that was available to work with the ever-growing number of migrants in need of ORR care.
“The numbers of kids started to increase but there was a hiring freeze at ORR that kept them to a very small operation,” he said.
Additionally, Becerra said the new administration found that the network of licensed care facilities used to accommodate unaccompanied migrant children had been dismantled and needed to be rebuilt in order for the Biden administration to begin processing the unaccompanied migrant children waiting in CBP detention facilities.
“On top of that, you add COVID-19 and it really strained the system,” Becerra said.