In non-COVID news: White House defends reopening of facility for migrant kids

The White House on Tuesday defended the reopening of a facility at the southern border to house migrant teenagers, insisting it was a temporary measure necessitated by the pandemic.

The Biden administration reopened the facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas to house up to 700 migrants ages 13 to 17, the Department of Health and Human Services announced late Monday, with the first unaccompanied children arriving the same day.

The decision rankled immigration advocates and sparked allegations of hypocrisy given President Biden and administration officials have vigorously condemned the Trump administration’s treatment of migrant kids at the border and its immigration policies more broadly. They question why the Biden administration would want to reopen a facility that was such a target for protests and controversy under former President Trump.

White House reasoning: “To ensure the health and safety of these kids, [the Department of Health and Human Services] took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity where these kids can be provided the care they need before they are safely placed with families and sponsors,” press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing with reporters. “So it’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19, our intention is very much to close it, but we want to make sure we can follow COVID protocols.”

Contrast to Trump: The Biden administration does not expel unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border, Psaki said, so they are transferred to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, and housed in ORR facilities. In addition, the minors transferred to the facility are actually unaccompanied, rather than forcibly separated from their families.

Psaki also rejected that housing the kids at the 66-acre site was akin to holding “kids in cages.”

“That is never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the past administration,” Psaki said. “But we are in a circumstance where we are not going to expel unaccompanied minors at the border. That would be inhumane. That is not what we’re going to do here as an administration.”

Flashback: The camp officially opened June 30, 2019 in order to provide more beds to children who were being held in squalid Border Patrol facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border, but was emptied after being open less than a month. While the shelter has been empty since July 2019, it has been on “warm” status, and never closed.