The White House and Homeland Security may not want to call the border a “crisis” but the top health official in charge of caring for the massive surge of children is using the term, telling a federal judge the emergency shelters they’ve opened to detain the kids is delivering “a crisis standard of care.”
Cindy Huang, who runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement at Health and Human Services, called the number of children rushing the border “historic” and “unprecedented,” undercutting President Biden’s assertion that the current surge happens “every year.”
Ms. Huang said her department is so overwhelmed that normal rules about facilities and care have gone out the window and they must cut some corners as they rush to open Emergency Intake Sites — known in government-speak as EIS.
“EIS are by definition temporary emergency sites, and are focused on providing a crisis standard of care until UC can be transferred to a better-resourced setting,” she wrote in a declaration filed with a federal judge in California.
The Biden team has fiercely defied calls to label the border situation a crisis.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki used the term during a briefing March 18, then recanted when it was pointed out to her.
And at a press conference two weeks ago Mr. Biden downplayed the notion of a crisis, insisting the surge was cyclical.
“There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year,” he said.
Ms. Huang, in her sworn declaration, rejected that thinking.
“As an initial matter, it is important to understand that the current influx is not limited to the January-March time period, but is an ongoing challenge that will likely increase in severity in the coming weeks and months,” she told Judge Dolly M. Gee.
Her seven-page declaration, in addition to using “crisis,” calls the situation “unprecedented” four times.
And the numbers back her up.
Nearly 19,000 Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs, were caught at the border in March. That is by far the record for any month, and it was double the rate of February.
The pace has slowed some in April, based on daily numbers released by Homeland Security, but is still on track to be the second-highest month in history for UACs.
As of Sunday, Homeland Security said there were 3,130 UACs still in Border Patrol custody and more than 18,000 in HHS-run shelters.
On Sunday alone, 690 children were sent from Border Patrol custody to HHS, while just 228 children were discharged from the shelters.
Ms. Huang’s filing came in response to a court-appointed independent monitor, who raised questions about the care children were receiving at the emergency shelters the Biden administration has rushed to stand up.
The ORR director told Judge Gee that the emergency shelters can’t meet the usual standards because they “are novel temporary facilities implemented with urgency to address the historic number of children arriving at the border.”
She said it would be “nearly impossible” to create enough emergency space quickly enough if they had to meet the full medical standards of the regular shelters for children.
Under current policy, UACs are supposed to be moved out from Border Patrol custody within 72 hours, though many have been held at border facilities for more than a week.