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The White House said Monday there's a "big problem" at the southern border, where more migrant children continue arriving without parents

By Virginia Chamlee
March 15, 2021 05:25 PM
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Alejandro Mayorkas
Alejandro Mayorkas
| Credit: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration said Monday it has a "big problem" at the southern U.S.-Mexico border and it's calling in FEMA, the government's emergency relief agency, to help.

FEMA will be stepping in to help transfer unaccompanied minors from overcrowded facilities to temporary shelters, in response to a spike in migrant children arriving at the border without their parents in recent weeks.

"We recognize this is a big problem," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, pointing blame at Donald Trump's previous administration.

"The last administration left us a dismantled and unworkable system and, like any other problem we are going to do everything we can to solve it," Psaki, 42, said.

Over the next three months, the Department of Homeland Security said FEMA will work with the government "to safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southwest border."

"Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

FEMA's assistance at the border is not unprecedented: The Obama administration also worked with the agency to coordinate its own response to an uptick in unaccompanied minors arriving at the border in 2014.

A recent CNN report found the number of unaccompanied children arriving each day at the U.S.-Mexico border has been on the rise since President Joe Biden, 78, took office in January.

The number of detained children at the border has "tripled in the last two weeks," according to a New York Times report.

Biden has touted immigration reform as one of his top priorities, sending a bill to Congress on his first day in office that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Biden reversed a Trump-era practice that had unaccompanied children who cross the border alone expelled from the country and declared: "I'm not making new law. I'm eliminating bad policy."

The president's reversal of Trump's widely criticized policies coincides with the growing number of parents sending their children to the U.S. alone, according to an AP report.

The DHS, however, said the number of border crossings has been on the rise since April 2020, "due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America."

joe biden
Joe Biden
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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 3, 2021
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
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There are currently more than 3,000 children being detained at the border, NBC News reported. Nearly half of those children have been held beyond the government's three-day limit, according to NBC.

After three days, the federal government is required by law to move children to shelters before they are ultimately placed with a sponsor. According to the Times, the children are being detained in facilities that were intended for adults and are managed by the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Psaki said the Biden administration hopes FEMA's assistance "will help get children quickly placed ... with vetted sponsors and families" and that Biden, himself, "is very focused on expediting what's happening at the border at every step in the process."

Meanwhile, both concern and criticism has grown.

On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the rising number of migrant children attempting to cross the border "a humanitarian crisis," though she applauded Biden's decision to bring in FEMA to help transfer children to locations where she says "they are cared for as they are transferred into family homes or homes that are safe for them to be."

Others have been increasingly critical, as the crisis grows: In a letter sent to Biden earlier this month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote that he felt "compelled to express great concern with the manner in which your administration is approaching this crisis."

"We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border," McCarthy, a Republican, added.