U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials announced the opening of another Emergency Intake Site (EIS) to move the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children out of Customs and Border Protection custody. The move mirrors recent announcements by HHS to address the surge in unaccompanied children migrants flooding the southern border.
The new EIS facility will be located at the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California. The Pomona Fairplex EIS is expected to receive 250 unaccompanied migrant children over the weekend. The Emergency Intak Site will provide shelter for up to 2,500 boys and girls between two and 17 years of age.
According to HHS, the EIS shelters being brought into service will provide required standards of care for children, such as providing clean and comfortable sleeping quarters, meals, toiletries, laundry, and access to medical services. A COVID-19 health screening protocol for all children will be implemented to follow CDC guidelines for preventing and controlling communicable diseases, officials claimed. Services will be provided by a combination of contractors and federal staff – including teams from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
The number of unaccompanied minors in United States custody rose steadily over the last several months and shows no signs of waning. At the start of April, HHS held 13,204 unaccompanied alien children. Friday, that number stood at 22,557, a 70% increase. On April 1, HHS released 244 UACs to sponsors in the United States. On Friday, HHS released 580 UACs to sponsors, over twice their daily rate of releases during the month. In total, HHS officials released more than 7,000 UACs to sponsors in the United States in April.
HHS attempts to move the unaccompanied migrant children from temporary holding facilities at Border Patrol Stations as quickly as possible. So far, officials are unable to keep up with the current rate of illegal border crossings by unaccompanied minors. According to a law enforcement source within CBP, Border Patrol agents arrested nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children in March — an all-time monthly record.
Although current laws dictate the children may only be in CBP custody for 72 hours, many have been detained for more than ten days according to law enforcement sources. A number of Border Patrol facilities continue to face issues with overcrowding. HHS, by opening additional shelters can move UACs from Border Patrol custody into HHS Emergency Intake Sites, thus reducing the number held in temporary holding cells at Border Patrol Stations. The number of UACs being detained by the federal government continues to climb despite this effort.
HHS estimates the cost to house each unaccompanied child in an EIS is approximately $775 per day. The cost is lower at other HHS shelters that provide more permanent housing. Based on their cost estimates, daily expenses for the care of the UACs in HHS custody are over $9 million per day.
The Biden administration has not, thus far, communicated a clear plan to reduce the influx of unaccompanied migrant children.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas Sector.