Mar 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden briefing calls for 20,000 child migrant beds

President Joe Biden holding a pen and looking thoughtful
Photo: Anna MoneymakerPool/Getty Images

A briefing scheduled for President Biden this afternoon outlines the need for 20,000 beds to shelter an expected crush of child migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The rapid influx of unaccompanied children is becoming the administration's first new crisis. A presentation created by the Domestic Policy Council spells out the dimensions with nearly 40 slides full of charts and details.

Driving the news: On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said from the White House podium that the current situation is not a crisis. Today, the president will be told the number of migrant kids is on pace to exceed the all-time record by 45% — and the administration doesn't have enough beds.

  • Facing the growing numbers, the Department of Health and Human Services — which oversees the network of child migrant shelters — is planning to change its coronavirus protocols to make room for an additional 2,000 kids and teens, according to a source with direct knowledge of the presentation and a second congressional source.
  • Even with new shelters and loosened COVID-19 restrictions, the administration projects it will fall short of its needs by a couple thousand.
  • A DHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. An HHS spokesperson referred the request to the White House, which declined comment.

Between the lines: DHS currently projects there will be 117,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossing the border this year, according to information on the slides.

  • A large number of them are teenagers. Just last month, some 6,000 migrants aged 16 and 17 were caught, according to the slides.
  • HHS is expected to reach its shelter capacity later this month, according to the two sources.

What to watch: The administration is looking at ways to reduce the shelter populations by accelerating the release of children to sponsors already in the U.S., the sources said.

  • They plan to end a Trump-era agreement between DHS and HHS that included strict sponsor vetting requirements — a practice some advocates say had a chilling effect on sponsors' willingness to offer their homes.
  • HHS has already said it would pay for transportation for children when sponsors cannot, and it has proposed removing a request for Social Security numbers from the form filled out by the potential caretakers for unaccompanied minors, as Reuters reported.

Flashback: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a border district, has warned about the unintended consequences of such actions.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the HHS response to a request for comment.

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