The administration of President Joe Biden has turned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help managing record numbers of unaccompanied children entering the United States by illegally crossing the border with Mexico.
FEMA will support a government-wide effort over the next three months to safely receive, shelter and transfer children who arrive without a parent or other adult at the US southwest border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Saturday.
Government figures show a growing crisis at the border as hundreds of children illegally enter the US from Mexico daily and are taken into custody.
The Homeland Security Department is supposed to process and transfer unaccompanied minors to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within three days so they can be placed with a parent already living in the United States, or other suitable sponsor, until their immigration case can be resolved.
But more children are being held longer at Border Patrol facilities that were not designed with their care in mind because long-term shelters run by the HHS have next to no capacity to accommodate them.
Children are being apprehended at far higher rates than HHS can process them.
Mayorkas said FEMA is working with the Health and Human Services Department to “look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging”.
“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.
During a record influx of unaccompanied minors in 2014, the Obama administration also turned to FEMA for help co-ordinating the government-wide response.
During that crisis, FEMA helped stand up temporary shelters and processing stations on military bases.
President Joe Biden has ended the Trump-era practice of expelling immigrant children who cross the border alone, but maintained expulsions of immigrant families and single adults.
While his administration has tried to deter immigrants from entering the US, many believe they have a better chance now that Biden is president.
There have also been growing reports of parents sending their children across the border alone while they remain in Mexico or Central America.