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Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, Texas. Photo: Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

More than 700 children who crossed from Mexico into the United States without their parents were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, according to an internal Customs and Border Protection document obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The current backup is yet another sign of a brewing crisis for President Biden — and a worsening dilemma for these vulnerable children. Biden is finding it's easier to talk about preventing warehousing kids at the southern border than solving the problem.

  • Making matters worse, border crossings usually peak in the spring, and it's only February.

Behind the scenes: Of the more than 700 kids waiting to be transferred to shelters overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 200 had been held in these Border Patrol stations for more than 48 hours.

  • Nine had been detained for longer than the agreed-upon limit of 72 hours, according to the internal document, which timestamped the data current as of 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 21.

During Wednesday's White House media briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged some kids had been held four or five days — or more.

  • She blamed some of the delays on the bad weather that shut down Texas last week, saying some long-term shelters "did not have power and were not in a place where they had the capacity to take in these kids and do it safely."
  • She also pushed back — hard — on an equivalency between the current and past administrations' handling of children, who generally come from countries in Central America, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • While president, Donald Trump was criticized for separating children from their parents. That policy is no longer in place, although rising numbers of children arriving now are unaccompanied, meaning they are detained alone anyway.

What they're saying: "We have a couple of options: We can send them back home. ... We can quickly transfer them from CPB to these HHS-run facilities. ... We can put them with families and sponsors without any vetting," Psaki said. "We've chosen the middle option."

During the surge in 2019, government watchdogs found severe overcrowding and concerning sanitation, health and safety issues at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol intake facilities, which are special concerns for children.

  • CBP is only meant to have short-term custody of migrants before adults and families are transferred to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS.
  • Nonetheless, in January, at least 179 migrant minors spent more than three days in CBP custody, as well as at least 48 kids in December, CBS News' Camilo Montoya-Galvez reported this week.

What to watch: Coronavirus protocols have also significantly lowered the number of children who can be held at the longer-term HHS shelters.

  • The Biden administration has already been forced to open a temporary influx shelter in Texas for child migrants, which also has the capacity to add tent-like structures.

More than 400 migrant kids were referred to HHS shelters just on Tuesday, according to one administration official.

  • That's an eye-catching number, especially compared to the 30-day referral average at the peak of the 2019 crisis — which was 294.

Bottom line: The Biden administration halted the use of an emergency health order that had allowed the Trump administration to quickly expel migrant children who crossed the border.

  • Some experts now say that Biden's policy reversal is part of the reason for the recent increase in unaccompanied children arriving at the border.

Go deeper

Biden administration reopens Trump-era facility for migrant children

Tents at the Influx Care Facility for unaccompanied children on Feb. 21 in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Biden administration reopened a temporary facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on Monday, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Officials say the camp is necessary because of an uptick in migrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the federal government's capacity to house children before they can be reunited with sponsors.

Mike Allen, author of AM
14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Fauci's offensive against "craziness"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

After becoming a top punching bag for the right, Dr. Anthony Fauci is defending himself with a sharp new edge, arguing that an attack on him is an attack on science.

What he's saying: In comments to Kara Swisher on her New York Times "Sway" podcast, shared first with Axios, Fauci says: "It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves. ... And that's the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science."

Afghanistan's president coming to Washington on Friday

Ashraf Ghani, left, president of Afghanistan, and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

As the U.S. troop withdrawal accelerates, President Biden will welcome Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, at the White House on Friday.

Our thought bubble: Axios politics editor Glen Johnson, who traveled to Afghanistan while working for Secretary of State John Kerry, said inviting both Ghani and Abdullah to Washington shows the administration’s respect for the delicate balance of power in the country.