The United States has used military bases to house unaccompanied children during previous peaks of arrivals.
The U.S. government is assessing whether to house unaccompanied migrant children at a military base in Virginia in the midst of a sharp rise of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, according to a notice from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seen by the Reuters news agency.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that Fort Lee, a US Army facility about 30 miles south of Richmond, was under consideration.
The number of migrant children arriving at the southwest border has increased in recent months, putting pressure on HHS-run shelters that house children before they are handed over to their parents or other sponsors at the United States.
In the notice, the HHS said there was an urgent need to find more accommodation space for unaccompanied minors. The department said it needed to “aggressively” find solutions for the growing number of children entering the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of migrants caught crossing the border and allowed to enter the United States has increased in recent weeks, as President Joe Biden, a Democrat, pledged to overturn many of the former president’s radical policies Donald Trump, a Republican.
US officials are rushing to find housing and speed up the release of growing numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border after Biden exempted them in February from a Trump-era policy known as of Title 42. for health reasons, allows US authorities to quickly deport migrants captured at the border.
“[W]We recognize the challenge of seeing these unaccompanied children crossing the border and the influx that we are certainly preparing and preparing to approach, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “So of course we have to look for facilities in places where we can safely and humanely accommodate these unaccompanied minors in the meantime,” she added without confirming that Fort Lee is considered one of the these facilities.
Under US law, children under the age of 18 caught crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian are labeled “unaccompanied” and must be transferred from border patrol facilities to HHS shelters within 72 hours. .
The law describes separate procedures for children in Mexico and Canada that allow them to be more easily removed from the country.
Most of the children arriving without a parent or legal guardian are from Mexico and Central America.
The United States has used military bases to house unaccompanied children in previous spikes in arrivals, including a surge of unaccompanied minors in 2014 under former President Barack Obama. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive action that allowed the use of military bases to house undocumented families.
A congressional research service report released shortly after Trump’s executive action revealed that from 2012 to 2017, under the Obama administration, nearly 16,000 unaccompanied children were housed at U.S. military bases in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Biden administration also plans to convert two family detention centers in Texas into facilities that would do so quickly. treat families of incoming migrants and allow them to be released within 72 hours pending the outcome of their cases, according to two people familiar with the plan.
The HHS said as of March 4, the agency had 7,700 unaccompanied minors in custody, the highest level since 2019. As of last week, there were around 7,700 beds available.
Unaccompanied children come to the United States to reunite with family members or escape violence and poverty in their home countries, experts say. In some cases, children arrive at the border with an adult, such as a parent or family friend, but are considered “unaccompanied” because they are traveling without a parent or legal guardian.