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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden is preparing for his own crisis at the U.S. border, with 5,000 migrant children and counting: The number of unaccompanied minors trying to cross is rising while coronavirus distancing requirements have cut by half the number of useable beds in government shelters.

Driving the news: Two administration officials tell Axios plans are underway to open an overflow shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which could house another 700 children in its main building under COVID-19 precautions.

  • This comes as Biden is set to unveil his own immigration and border policies this week, beginning Tuesday, and undo much of his predecessor's hardline approach.

Why it matters: The Trump administration was lambasted for its extended use of the temporary shelters and so-called "tent cities" when holding facilities were overwhelmed during the migrant crisis in 2019. Biden's rhetoric and intentions differ, but that doesn't change his challenge: when apprehensions rise and space runs out, the options are limited.

  • Temporary shelters are controversial because they aren't subject to the same state licensing and monitoring of the long-term facilities, experts say.
  • The Texas site can accommodate tent-like facilities in case of a surge. The senior official said children at the influx shelter will receive education, medical and mental health care and all of the other services that they would in other shelters.

Details: By law, border officials have only 72 hours to transfer migrant children to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shelters, which can be difficult when numbers surge. One official said in anticipation of that scenario, HHS will notify Congress it intends to use Carrizo Springs.

  • There are currently about 5,000 children in HHS' care.
  • The number is still safely below normal capacity — and far below the 2019 crisis levels when the monthly, average shelter population reached 14,000. But it's about twice the number compared to late November.
  • Meanwhile, coronavirus precautions have cut the available beds by about half.
  • Sunday, there were 260 referrals of children to shelters, according to one internal report reviewed by Axios. That’s not far off the 294 average at the peak of the child migrant crisis in June 2019, according to public agency data.

Biden's team may face added scrutiny because of the Trump administration's handling of child immigration issues. One administration source told Axios, "The new leadership is so afraid of making any decision because of optics."

Flashback: In November, a court order blocked border officials under the Trump administration from using an order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to quickly expel migrant kids who cross the border.

  • The uptick in child migrants is at least partly due to the impact that order had.

What's next: Despite a Friday court ruling that would allow the Biden administration to revert to fast-track expulsions of migrant children begun under Trump, a senior administration official said there are no plans to do so.

Go deeper

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

3 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.