May 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: HHS prepared to double migrant capacity at Fort Bliss

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is seen making remarks.
Xavier Becerra. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this week he's prepared, if needed, to double the capacity for underage migrants at Fort Bliss, Texas, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Expanding the capacity at Fort Bliss, where thousands of migrants under age 12 could be held, is controversial because it’s harder to care for younger children in massive facilities, migrant advocates argue.

  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), whose district includes the base, asked Becerra about potential plans to increase the number of beds from 5,000 to 10,000, as HHS prepares to close temporary shelters in Dallas and San Antonio.
  • Becerra answered by suggesting he didn’t have any other options and was open to any ideas from the lawmakers, people familiar with the matter told Axios.

What they're saying: “Secretary Becerra wasn’t saying anything new: Some emergency intake sites, including Fort Bliss, are not at capacity and could temporarily and safely house more children — if needed — as we work to unify children with parents and sponsors," said Sarah Lovenheim, a spokesperson for HHS.

  • "We continue to make significant strides in unifying children safely. Just last week, we unified over 3,300 children with sponsors.”

The big picture: HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is responsible for housing unaccompanied minors after they're turned over by the Department of Homeland Security.

  • The transfer is supposed to happen in 72 hours.
  • HHS’s goal is to then find family members already in the country to host the minors. They typically are allowed into the U.S., while adults are rejected at the border.
  • There are about 20,000 underage migrants currently in government custody, with HHS scrambling to find them homes — even paying travel costs for adult sponsors to arrive at the shelters to pick up the children, Axios reported in April.
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