Homeland Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support a government-wide effort over the next 90 days to safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southwest border.
The federal government is responding to the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border. 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 federal government is working around the clock to move unaccompanied children from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) care and to place them with a family member or sponsor until their immigration case is adjudicated. The risks posed by the spread of COVID-19 have made this mission all the more difficult.
“I am grateful for the exceptional talent and responsiveness of the FEMA team,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “I am incredibly proud of the agents of the Border Patrol, who have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care. Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child. We are working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves. 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.”
FEMA is now integrated and co-located with HHS to look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging. The workforce of DHS, including CBP, the Federal Protective Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and volunteers from across the Department through the DHS Volunteer Force, will help to provide shelter capacity, security, and other support as needed.
“It is never safe to come to the United States through irregular channels, and this is particularly true during a pandemic,” continued Mayorkas. “To effectively protect both the health and safety of migrants and our communities from the spread of COVID-19, individuals apprehended at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned.”
The journey that unaccompanied children undertake from their home countries is extremely dangerous, and the danger is more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the public health imperative, adults and accompanied children are subject to COVID-19 related travel restrictions and are returned to Mexico under the statutory authority of the CDC.