Amid criticism for the reopening of a Trump-era child migrant facility, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was a “difficult choice” to reopen the Carrizo Springs, Texas facility, but the best option available.
The administration opened a facility to house up to 700 immigrant teenagers after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied by a parent. The first teenagers arrived Monday at Carrizo Springs, which was converted two years ago into a holding facility under former President Donald Trump, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The facility has been closed since July 2019.
“Is it kids in containers instead of kids in cages?” Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Psaki.
“We have a number of unaccompanied minors coming into the country without their families,” Psaki responded. “What we are not doing is what the last administration did, which was separate those kids, rip them from the arms of their parents at the border.”
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Psaki said there were limited options of how to handle children that arrived at the border alone: to send them back home on a “dangerous journey,” to quickly place them with families and sponsors who haven’t been vetted or to reopen the detainment facilities.
A growing number of children have been taken into migrant custody along the southern border in recent days, straining the government’s ability to house them.
Psaki added that the new child migrant facilities had been opened to make space for social distancing. She stressed that the detainment facilities were run by HHS and had been “revamped” and equipped with teachers and a medical team.
Doocy also asked Psaki about reports that hundreds of children were detained by Customs and Border Patrol in a temporary facility for over 72 hours, the legal limit before they must be transferred to an HHS facility. Psaki said there had been delays due to weather and a lack of capacity to care for the influx of children. “Some, unfortunately, did stay four days, five days or longer but the objective is to move them as quickly as possible to an HHS-sponsored facility.”
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Progressives tore into the new migrant facility. “This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
She added: “It’s only 2 mos into this admin & our fraught, unjust immigration system will not transform in that time. That’s why bold reimagination is so impt. DHS shouldn’t exist, agencies should be reorganized, ICE gotta go, ban for-profit detention, create climate refugee status & more.”
Biden has said his immigration agenda will “take time” to implement so as to avoid a surge at the border. Weeks into office he signed executive orders establishing a task force to reunite families that had been separated and to begin a review of the Trump-era program that required migrants at the southern border to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims were processed.
The Trump administration imposed a “zero tolerance” policy that led to family separations, meaning that anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted, even if they had few or no previous convictions. The policy led to thousands of family separations and reports that some families still have not found each other today.
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Under that policy, adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings, while their children were separated from them. If the charges took longer than 72 hours to process, children would be sent from the care of Customs and Border Protection to the Health and Human Services Department.
Trump, though, signed an order to stop family separations in 2018.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.