Mar 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Texas Democrat: Close border to some minors

Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas is seen wearing a COVID mask during a news conference.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas). Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat and early supporter of President Biden, is urging the White House to adopt a short-term solution to the migration surge in his district: turn away older teenagers.

Why it matters: It's another indication the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border isn't politically or logistically tenable — especially for the people living there.

  • “There is no perfect fix here,” said Vela, who announced his retirement on Tuesday. “However, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and our systems are being overwhelmed.
  • “One logical approach to this situation would be to return the older teenagers to their home country, and provide funding for an effort supervised by the United Nations to properly care for those teenagers upon their return.”
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar, another Texas Democrat with a border district, told Axios it's something the administration at least “needs to have a conversation among themselves about,” especially given the high percentage of kids crossing the border who are 16 and 17 years old.

Between the lines: Vela didn't specify what he meant by “older teenagers,” but discouraging some of them from crossing the border could serve to test support for an adapted White House approach.

  • This month, the White House considered extending public health restrictions known as Title 42 to 17-year-olds, according to Buzzfeed News.

By the numbers: About 55% of almost 5,000 minors held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are aged 16 or 17, according to the latest data.

  • Some 823 unaccompanied migrant children have been held in Border Patrol custody for over 10 days, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document obtained by Axios.
  • As of Saturday, 3,314 unaccompanied children had been in custody longer than 72 hours — the legal limit for how long a child is supposed to be held by CBP.
  • Nearly 2,900 unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival at U.S. government shelters over the past year — including about 300 currently in the system, Axios reported Wednesday.

A delegation of White House officials and lawmakers visited a Department of Health and Human Services overflow facility for minors in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on Wednesday.

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), who was on the tour, told Axios: "The answer is exactly what they are trying to do right now, and that is to build up capacity in the region, with safe houses, shelters where these young people can present themselves."
  • Biden also announced Wednesday he was tapping Vice President Kamala Harris to handle the migrant surge at the southern border, as well as to work with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to address the problem at its start.

Don't forget: Former President Trump essentially shut down the border under a public health argument around the pandemic, by invoking Title 42 emergency restrictions.

  • Biden isn’t applying Title 42 to unaccompanied minors, which critics say is driving people northward.
Go deeper