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A family of Central American asylum seekers arrives to a bus station after being dropped off by Border Patrol. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration has awarded an $86 million contract for hotel rooms near the border to hold around 1,200 migrant family members who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, DHS officials confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: It's a sign of growing numbers of migrant families trying to come to the U.S. — in addition to already overwhelming numbers of kids crossing the border without their parents or legal guardians. Both trends appear to be straining government resources.

  • The contract through Endeavors, a Texas-based nonprofit, is for six months but could be extended and expanded. The hotels will be near border areas, including in Arizona and Texas.
  • ICE oversees the custody of migrant adults and families who cross the border illegally after they are apprehended by border patrol agents. The agency is already transforming its family detention facilities into rapid-processing centers with the goal of releasing families within 72 hours.
  • Regardless, the contracts with hotels point to the agency not being able to keep up with the growing numbers of families in its custody.

The big picture: Immigration agencies have used hotels in the past — as recently as last year for unaccompanied minors who the Trump administration was quickly expelling under an emergency public health order.

  • Hotel rooms are likely a safer option than border patrol stations, but do not have to follow the same safety protocols that official government detention spaces do.

By the numbers: The number of migrant family members caught crossing the southwest border more than doubled between January and February — rising from 7,000 to nearly 19,000, according to the most recently released agency data.

  • Border officials continue to use a Trump-era order to quickly return many families to Mexico. But Mexico has limited capacity to take in migrant families and won't accept some with young children, according to administration officials.
  • 42% of families were expelled to Mexico last month — down from 64% in January and 91% in October, according to the data. More than 13,000 family members who crossed the U.S. border illegally have been allowed into the country since the start of January, many released into border communities.
  • The Biden administration does not use the order to expel unaccompanied children, as the previous administration did.

What to watch: The Biden administration has been pressuring the Mexican government to increase its own immigration enforcement, to help slow the number of Central Americans making their way through the country to the U.S.-Mexico border, the New York Times and Washington Post have reported.

  • The U.S. is also giving more than 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Mexico.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.