Biden administration directs FEMA to help shelter child migrants amid claims it denied lawyers access to cramped border facility

As the number of migrant children in border detention facilities has swelled to a record high, the Biden administration has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help house them.

FEMA will help “safely receive, shelter and transfer” children who cross the southwestern border on their own, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Saturday, saying the assistance will last 90 days.

In his statement, Mayorkas said the government has to deal with “the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children,” amid reports that more than 3,200 children have currently been interned at Customs and Border Protection holding facilities.

Nearly half of these unaccompanied migrants have been held over 3 days – in violation of the Flores Settlement Agreement, which stipulates that CBP cannot hold children for more than 72 hours, the New York Times reported earlier this week, citing internal CBP documents. The Times report alleged that the number of children in these facilities, designed to house adults, has tripled in the last two weeks.

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Mayorkas blamed the influx on “ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America.” While these are the usual reasons driving the migrant surge, conservatives have argued that the Biden administration’s liberal immigration policies have sent a welcome signal to the migrants, previously deterred by ex-President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration stance.  

The tacit admission that there is an ongoing crisis at the border comes after AP reported on Friday that lawyers who wanted to check on child migrants reportedly held in squalid conditions in a tent facility in Texas, were denied access by the Biden administration. The facility is reportedly severely overcrowded, with children forced to sleep so close to each other “they can touch the person next to him,” according to AP, citing the lawyers. Some of the migrants have to sleep on the floor since there are reportedly not enough mats for everyone, and some have to wait for over five days to take a shower. 

“It is pretty surprising that the administration talks about the importance of transparency and then won’t let the attorneys for children set eyes on where they’re staying,” Leecia Welch of the National Center for Youth Law told AP.

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