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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.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ asks Supreme Court for last minute stay over Trump's "Remain in Mexico" program

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend a lower court's order that would force the administration to reinstate one of President Trump's border policies, which left tens of thousands of migrants to await asylum hearings in Mexico.

Why it matters: Ending the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy was one of President Biden’s campaign promises, and he suspended the program on his first day in office. The administration has now brought thousands of impacted migrants into the United States — some of whom waited years in Mexico.

Aug 20, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado kids are starting to get sicker from COVID-19

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Contrary to earlier in the pandemic when kids were rarely reported to severely suffer from COVID-19, Colorado health officials are now sounding the alarm that the virus is rapidly affecting more children and teens.

Driving the news: A surge in COVID-19 cases and respiratory illnesses has raised hospitalization counts at Children's Hospital by more than 20% over what is typical this time of year, the Denver Gazette reports.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.