WASHINGTON - U.S. immigration officials confirmed to FOX Television Stations that they are providing temporary shelter for some migrant families amid a growing surge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has signed a short-term contract with the non-profit division of Endeavors to provide temporary shelter and processing services for families who have not been expelled and are therefore placed in immigration proceedings for their removal from the United States," ICE Acting Director Tae D. Johnson said in a statement Saturday. "The $86.9 million contract provides 1,239 beds and other necessary services. The families will receive a comprehensive health assessment that includes COVID-19 testing."
"Our border is not open. The majority of individuals continue to be expelled under the Centers for Disease Control’s public health authority," Johnson continued.
President Joe Biden continues to face tough questions about the surge.
Within weeks of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, the Biden administration had reversed many of the most maligned Trump-era immigration policies, including deporting children seeking asylum who arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border and forcing migrants to wait in Mexico as they made their case to stay in the United States.
17 March 2021, Mexico, Tijuana: Children from Central America are taught and play at a migrant camp on the grounds of the National Institute for Migration near the "El Chaparral" border crossing.(Photo by Stringer/picture alliance via Getty Images)
While the administration was working on immigration legislation to address long-term problems, it didn’t have an on-the-ground plan to manage a surge of migrants. Career immigration officials had warned there could be a surge after the presidential election and the news that the Trump policies, widely viewed as cruel, were being reversed.
Now officials are scrambling to build up capacity to care for some 14,000 migrants now in federal custody — and more likely on the way — and the administration finds itself on its heels in the face of criticism that it should have been better prepared to deal with a predictable predicament.
Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials. There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168% and 63%, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center. That creates an enormous logistical challenge because children, in particular, require higher standards of care and coordination across agencies.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly laid blame for the current situation on the previous administration, arguing that Biden inherited a mess resulting from President Donald Trump’s undermining and weakening of the immigration system.
The White House also points to Biden’s decision to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known for helping communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster, to support efforts to process the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.
Biden and others have pushed back on the notion that what’s happening now is a "crisis."
"We will have, I believe, by next month enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go," Biden said in a recent ABC News interview, when asked whether his administration should have anticipated the surge in young unaccompanied migrants as well as families and adults. He added, "Let’s get something straight though. The vast majority of people crossing the border are being sent back ... immediately sent back."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.