Biden admin calls for federal volunteers to help get asylum-seeking children out of U.S. custody

BuzzFeed News reports that volunteers would assist in collecting contact information for potential sponsors, who are usually parents or relatives already here. Children in HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody would then be released to them. The report said that a listing states that volunteers would be tasked to “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 report continued. “The employees will be sent to emergency intake sites in San Diego, Dallas, San Antonio, and potentially CBP stations.”

Children who arrive to the U.S. without parents are supposed to be transferred from these border facilities to HHS ORR custody as soon as possible, and no later than three days, but capacity limits at HHS facilities have left hundreds of children stranded in inhumane border facilities for as long as 10 days. There’s general agreement that these facilities are unfit for children, but they’re not really fit for adults either. 

The administration has been taking steps to free up more space at HHS and get kids out of these border facilities, BuzzFeed News reports.

“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.” Recent policy changes also include facilities covering the travel fees of children released to sponsors, as well as the travel fees of sponsors traveling to facilities to pick up children.

The Associated Press questioned in a March 20 article if the Biden administration “should have been better prepared” to shelter larger numbers of children, but NBC News reported this week that the Biden transition team and career officials had actually warned the prior administration in early December about the need to increase HHS capacity, which had been lowered due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the report said that the previous administration was apparently confident it didn’t need to increase HHS capacity, and did not take action until just days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. “They were sitting on their hands,” the report quotes a transition official saying.

Others sitting on their hands instead of helping ensure the safety of children in U.S. custody is a delegation of 19 Republican senators, led by Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, at the southern border today. But they’re doing more than just sitting on their hands. They claimed in a statement to be concerned about a “humanitarian crisis,” but they’re really there for a Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy-style political stunt, complete with machine guns: 


A separate delegation led by Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is today visiting a facility holding children, and on Saturday, another delegation led by Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar “will meet with NGO representatives and immigration advocates and visit the El Paso Border Patrol Central Processing Center, an HHS/ORR facility for unaccompanied minors, a migrant shelter, and the Paso del Norte Port of Entry,” a statement received by Daily Kos said. 

“As the Biden administration works with urgency to restore compassion and humanity to our immigration system and address the root causes of migration, it’s important for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to understand as much as possible about ongoing challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Rep. Escobar said in the statement. “I thank my colleagues for their willingness to visit El Paso to see the full and complete picture as we focus on solutions.”

“Today, another congressional delegation travels to the southwest border,” Children Thrive Action Network (CTAN) Coordinating Committee said. “Some will offer only soundbites, not solutions. They will ignore the tragic conditions that force people to migrate. They will ignore the myriad ways the prior administration dismantled our nation’s asylum system and other avenues of legal immigration,—each of which must be rapidly restored and strengthened.”

”We take this opportunity to remind the world that: It is legal to seek asylum in the United States,” CTAN continued. “This right is enshrined in U.S. law, and treaties ratified by the United States. People arriving at our borders and requesting asylum are, in fact, following U.S. and international law. U.S. law also recognizes the particular vulnerability of children arriving alone and offers them additional protections.”