KIDS are “starving and sleeping on floors” at an overwhelmed migrant facility as the largest border surge in 20 YEARS is set to hit the US, warn reports.
The growing humanitarian and political crisis forced Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to say officials "are working around the clock" to manage the southwest border.
He admitted: "We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years."
Despite the growing crisis President Joe Biden says he has no plans to travel to the US-Mexico border.
More than 9,400 children arrived without parents in February, a threefold increase since this time last year, reports CNN.
The huge spike in migrants attempting to cross the border – at the highest level since 2019 – has become an early test for Biden.
This includes hundreds of immigrant children and teenagers detained at a Border Patrol tent facility in packed conditions, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
And some are sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough mats, according to nonprofit lawyers monitoring immigrant detention centers.
The lawyers interviewed more than a dozen children last week in Donna, Texas, where the Border Patrol is holding more than 1,000 people.
That's despite the Rio Grande Valley based facility only being allowed to hold 250 migrants, reports the Mail Online.
Officials are swamped as several weeks after opening to migrants, the Donna center is already at 729 per cent capacity, it adds.
Lawyers report that some kids have to wait five days or more to shower, and there isn’t always soap available, just shampoo.
Some of the kids told the lawyers they had been at the Donna center for a week or longer, despite the agency’s three-day limit for detaining children.
Many said they have been banned from phoning their parents or other relatives who are likely worried about where they are.
However, Biden’s administration has denied the lawyers access to the tent facility.
“It is pretty surprising that the administration talks about the importance of transparency and then won’t let the attorneys for children set eyes on where they’re staying,” said lawyer Leecia Welch of the National Center for Youth Law, one of the lawyers.
“I find that very disappointing," she added.
Alejandro Mayorkas admitted that a surge in the number of children, mostly from Central America, is a challenge for the Border Patrol and other agencies amid the pandemic.
But he rejected a Donald Trump-era policy of sending them immediately back to Mexico or other countries.
He said: "The situation at the southwest border is difficult.
"We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so. That is our job.
"We are making progress and we are executing on our plan. It will take time and we will not waver in our commitment to succeed.
"Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires and enable families to be together."
Republicans in Congress have accused Biden of supporting immigration legislation and slammed a decision to allow people to make legal asylum claims – saying it's turned the US into a magnet for migrants.
But Mayorkas noted that there have been surges in the past, even under Trump.
Yet Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently announced a surge of more than 100,000 migrants at the border in February – most of whom were single adults.
The number of kids crossing by themselves rose 60 per cent from January to more than 9,400 in February, according to the most recent statistics.
The spike is blamed on various factors, including the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic in Central America and two recent hurricanes in the region.
Smugglers are encouraging people to try to cross under the new administration, admit US officials.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Monday: "The sad part about all of this is it didn’t have to happen.
"This crisis was created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”
He spoke to reporters after leading a delegation of a dozen Republican lawmakers to the border in Texas.
While there, McCarthy blamed the Biden administration for driving an increase in migrants by supporting legislation in Congress that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people now in the country, and halting Trump's border wall construction.
The Biden administration last week ended a Trump administration policy that made relatives reluctant to contact HHS to retrieve children for fear of being deported themselves.
There have been growing reports of parents sending their children across the border alone while they remain in Mexico or Central America.
To help cope with the volume of people, the Biden administration has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance.
The agency said it would help manage and care for record numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children who are streaming into the US by illegally crossing the border with Mexico.
The agency will set up new temporary facilities to house migrant children in Texas and Arizona.
A FEMA statement added it was also working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to provide food, water and basic medical care.”
The Homeland Security Department is supposed to process and transfer unaccompanied minor children to HHS within three days.
They are then supposed to be placed with a parent already living in the United States, or other suitable sponsor, until their immigration cases can be resolved.
HHS is now working on expanding shelter capacity and backing aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to try to stem the flow of migrants at the source.
America is continuing to expel most single adults and families either to Mexico or to their countries of origin, apart from those with "certain acute vulnerabilities", said Mayorkas.
He said the border situation was “difficult” but not a crisis, echoing President Biden insistence that there is a not a crisis.
Republicans are adamant that migrants are drawn by incentives such as the immigration bill backed by Biden and many Democrats that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of people illegally in the country.
“We’re seeing a surge of unaccompanied children coming across the border. Why? Joe Biden promised amnesty,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet.
Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s senior official for southwest border affairs, said the administration is asking Congress for $4billion for targeted aid to nonprofit and community organizations in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to try to ease some of the conditions that cause people to flee their homelands.
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