The US government is opening an emergency intake site at a Dallas convention center as an effort to decrease overcrowding reported in Border Patrol facilities, according to an email sent to congressional officials Tuesday.
The Health and Human Services Department planned to open the emergency intake site specifically for minors at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. As of this weekend, more than 4,200 children were in custody at Border Patrol stations and facilities that were not designed for minors. The new center aims to place children in a setting more designed to their needs, according to government officials.
HHS officials planned to open the site on Wednesday, according to a congressional notification sent Tuesday. The decision comes just a few days after the agency opened up a separate emergency site in Midland, Texas.
The goal of the new intake center is to put children in a safer environment while officials work to get them to a family member or other sponsor, or a long-term shelter, agency officials wrote. The site will be a temporary measure, officials said.
“All efforts will be made to safely release children to sponsors or transfer them to other ORR care providers as quickly as possible. This approach will help decrease overcrowding at CBP facilities and ensure children are moved into ORR shelters, where children receive educational, medical, mental health, and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors without undue delay,” the email read. The American Red Cross and federal employees from HHS and other agencies will staff the center.
US officials are struggling to keep up with the numbers of unaccompanied children at the border as they attempt to discharge them to shelters and facilities run by HHS, which are also strapped for beds. The border situation has become the latest challenge for President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo immigration policies set by his predecessor.
While the administration continues to turn back most immigrants at the southern border under a Trump-era order that cited the coronavirus, known as Title 42, unaccompanied children have been the exception.
"We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday. He added that they were encountering many children at the border including "six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult."
Unaccompanied children from Central America who are picked up by Border Patrol agents are generally sent to the 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.
On Friday afternoon, US Citizenship and Immigration Services employees received an email describing how HHS officials had asked for volunteer support to care for and assist unaccompanied immigrant children at the border. HHS, the email said, needed volunteers to do in-person interviews with children, contact potential sponsors of the children, and serve as youth care workers at the HHS facilities themselves.
The AP first reported the plans to open the convention center as an emergency intake site.