US will hold 3000 immigrant teens in Dallas convention centre amid border surge

Move comes as border-crossers overwhelm US capacity to house them

Josh Marcus
Josh Marcus
Monday 15 March 2021 20:14
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The US will use a convention centre in downtown Dallas, Texas to temporarily hold up to 3,000 teenage migrants, as the latest periodic surge of young people crossing the country’s southern border strains the immigration system.

Beginning as early as this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for detaining unauthorised migrants who are minors, will use the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for up to three months to hold boys aged 15 to 17, according to a memo seen by the Associated Press.

Facilities closer to the border are already at max capacity, causing the Border Patrol to detain young people past the three-day legal limit they must obey in most cases before passing them to HHS.

A Border Patrol tent facility in Donna, Texas, is reportedly holding more than 1,000 children, some as young as four, under cramped conditions with some sleeping on the floor, according to lawyers who inspected the location under a court settlement.

The Biden administration is also considering sheltering unaccompanied children at a NASA research facility in California to help ease the strain on the Border Patrol.

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Immigration authorities are still turning back most unauthorised border-crossers under a Trump-era guidance known as Title 42, put in place during the coronavirus, but the White House has made an exception for children.

“I am incredibly proud of the agents of the Border Patrol, who have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the AP in a statement. “Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child.”

While the influx of young migrants has generated concern – for some, over finding legal and humane ways to house them while they work their way through the immigration process, and for others, like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, over factually inaccurate fears of “open border policies” – the immigration-focused reporting outlet BORDER/LINES notes that the recent crossings are “well below historic peaks”.

What’s more, some of the surge in recent days is related to the Trump administration’s various border policies, which drastically slowed the asylum process, stranding tens of thousands in border cities waiting for their claims to process.

Despite the media and political hype around the crossings, the White House has denied the situation constitutes a “crisis”, even though President Joe Biden used the term for a similar surge in 2014 while he was vice-president.

“Look, I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the president,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference last week.

Apprehensions at the border have been climbing throughout this year, rising from 75,312 at the southern border in January to 96,974 in February. In 2014, that number peaked at 60,683.

What makes bumps like these particularly challenging is that US immigration detention was largely set up with single, adult males in mind, the group that traditionally immigrated to the US.

Increasingly, however, migration is being driven by groups of families or unaccompanied children coming from Central America, and the US has struggled to balance certain humanitarian provisions like the Flores settlement, a 1997 federal court agreement limits Border Patrol detentions of children and families, with its immigration laws.

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