WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Biden administration ordered the government's disaster emergency agency Saturday (March 13) to help with a surge in migrant children crossing the southern border that has overwhelmed processing facilities.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to support an effort to temporarily house thousands of children who crossed the US-Mexico border alone amid criticisms that authorities were holding them for long periods in overcrowded facilities.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) department is currently holding about 8,800 migrant children and the US Customs and Border Protection has hundreds more in their charge, with more arriving every day.
In February alone CBP detained 9,457 unaccompanied migrant children at the southern border.
Facilities are overcrowded and authorities are doubly challenged by restrictions related to Covid-19.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that Fema would be part of a 90-day effort to ensure the children are safely sheltered and transferred to people who will take care of them, usually relatives already living in the United States.
"The federal government is responding to the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border," the department said.
"Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the border has been rising due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America."
The nearly two-month-old government of President Joe Biden faces growing pressure from migrants, apparently encouraged to try to enter the United States by his rejection of former president Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy toward undocumented immigrants.
While migrant adults and families continue to be sent back to Mexico when they are caught, unaccompanied children are being processed and get help resettling with US relatives.
"Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children," Mayorkas said in a statement.