Washington, D.C. – March marks the one-year anniversary of the Biden Administration’s opening of emergency intake sites (EIS) in early 2021 to respond to the large numbers of unaccompanied children seeking protection at the U.S.-Mexico border after the Administration exempted them from Title 42. These emergency sites were to be a temporary fix to respond to an immediate need for capacity due to COVID-19-related restrictions on licensed shelters and as a way to move children out of prolonged Customs and Border Protection custody. However, one year later, some of these very large, unlicensed sites continue to serve as shelters for children, but still do not meet the minimum standards required by law.
“Emergency intake sites may have been necessary when they were initially stood up to help relieve pressure on Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, and these facilities were certainly better than children languishing in completely inappropriate Customs and Border Protection facilities, or even worse, being pushed back into Mexico,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “But it’s now a year later, and the Administration has a responsibility to seek a sustainable solution to care for unaccompanied children. Conditions at Ft. Bliss and other sites are not appropriate for children. The Administration should be moving away from these facilities, not toward them, and devising solutions to address the predictable spikes in children seeking protection. Children deserve care in facilities that meet child welfare guidelines and state licensing requirements. The fluctuations in arrivals each year is not a surprise; it is disappointing, however, that the Administration has failed to close these facilities a year after they were stood up under the guise of an emergency response.”
During the past year, KIND has consistently recommended that the Biden Administration take the following steps to protect children and move toward a more sustainable response to anticipated arrivals of unaccompanied children:
- Ensure that all children who were in an EIS are provided an attorney and post-release services.
- End the use of all EIS and solely use small, licensed facilities for the custody of children.
- Allocate additional funding for ORR, which would eliminate any future need for large, non-licensed facilities and expand ORR’s capacity to provide state-licensed placements for children in family-based settings. The Administration has requested additional appropriations funding for this purpose.
- Ensure that children are released from federal custody as quickly as possible to family or other appropriate sponsors who can provide loving care that protects the child’s safety and well-being.
“KIND urges the Administration to close all emergency intake sites and establish a border management system that obviates the need for emergency intake shelters and prioritizes expedited release of children to appropriate caregivers or placement in small, licensed facilities in community-based settings,” Young concluded.
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