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The Biden Administration Is Looking For More Federal Volunteers To Help Overcrowded Border Stations

Department of Homeland Security officials have already requested volunteers to help get children out of border facilities and connected with family members in the US.

Posted on March 25, 2021, at 7:39 p.m. ET

Stringer / Stringer/picture-alliance/dpa / AP Images

An immigrant boy from Honduras writes on a blackboard set up for teaching children in a camp at the border US–Mexico border.

The Biden administration is asking for more federal employees to volunteer their time at the southern border to assist with the increase in unaccompanied immigrant children who have been stuck in overcrowded facilities.

The federal workers would help the Health and Human Services Department efforts to place the unaccompanied children with a family member and out of US custody as officials try to cut down on the overcrowding, according to a job posting being issued on Thursday.

US officials have been unable to keep up with the increase in unaccompanied children at the border as they attempt to discharge them to facilities run by HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which were also strapped for beds. Department of Homeland Security officials have already requested volunteers to help HHS process children out of border facilities and speed up the system that gets them to potential sponsors, like family members, in the US.

The job posting states that employees who decide to join would “efficiently collect and provide information to ORR to enable the National Call Center to begin contacting parents and family members to expedite children's discharge to a US family member sponsor.” They would also help DHS and ORR find children who should be a higher priority based on a “vulnerable category or time in CBP custody.” The employees will be sent to emergency intake sites in San Diego, Dallas, San Antonio, and potentially CBP stations.

Employees who take on the role would interview children and collect contact information for their family members in the US and elsewhere. ORR officials are attempting to make the unification process more efficient to clear up more space in shelter facilities.

“The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to support the Administration’s urgent efforts to care for and place Unaccompanied Children who have entered the United States via the southern border,” Kathleen McGettigan, the head of the OPM, wrote to agencies on Thursday.

Earlier this week, HHS officials issued new “expedited release” guidance that cuts down on the often convoluted process of releasing children to their parents or guardians if there are no immediate red flags and the child is not especially vulnerable, according to the document.

HHS officials will conduct interviews to establish proof of their relationship, along with other steps, and then release the child to the parent. HHS officials are then authorized to also purchase airplane or bus tickets for the sponsors to come pick up the children and pay for costs associated with their return home.

Unaccompanied children from Central America who are picked up by Border Patrol agents are typically sent to the HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they are housed in shelters across the country as they begin officially applying for asylum and wait to be reunited with family members in the US.

The administration needs the additional HHS capacity to help relieve the overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities, where more than 5,000 unaccompanied children were being held on Wednesday. Many of the children have been in custody for longer than 72 hours, the legal limit for children in such facilities.

In the last several weeks, HHS and DHS opened an emergency intake site specifically for minors at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. The decision came just a few days after the agency opened up a separate emergency site in Midland, Texas. HHS then revealed Saturday that it will also open the Target Lodge Pecos North property in Texas as an “influx care facility” for children — it can hold around 500 children and can expand to accommodate 2,000.

Earlier this week, officials also said they’d soon open convention centers in San Diego and San Antonio, along with utilizing Department of Defense bases in Texas.

President Joe Biden said in his press conference Thursday that the efforts should lead to children being out of the border patrol facilities more quickly.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.