U.S. to keep migrant families in hotels as amid rush for space

Published - April 10, 2021 05:22 pm IST - San Diego (U.S.)

Unaccompanied minor migrants wait to be transported by the U.S. Border Patrols after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in La Joya, Texas, U.S., April 7, 2021.

Unaccompanied minor migrants wait to be transported by the U.S. Border Patrols after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in La Joya, Texas, U.S., April 7, 2021.

Migrant families will be held at hotels in the Phoenix area in response to a growing number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said on Friday, another step in the Biden administration's rush to set up temporary space for them.

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema was told that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will occupy “several hotels along the southwest border, including in Chandler and Phoenix,” her office said in a statement. Chandler is a Phoenix suburb that's more than 150 miles (241 kilometres) north of the border.

Also read | U.S. orders emergency agency to help with child migration surge

ICE declined to identify specific hotels and locations, saying only that its $86.9 million contract announced last month with Endeavours Inc will provide about 1,200 hotel beds in Texas and Arizona. Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.

The contract says the San Antonio-based provider of veterans care, disaster relief and migrant services already has beds available at hotels in Chandler and the Texas cities of El Paso and Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio. The first families to be housed in hotels under the contract were set to arrive Friday.

Sinema's office said the Democratic senator spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and will hold him "accountable for protecting Arizona communities and ensuring all migrants are treated fairly and humanely".

The Border Patrol encountered 52,904 families along the Mexican border last month, up from 19,286 in February and 3,455 in March 2020. The Endeavours contract says authorities anticipate the highest number of family arrivals in 20 years during the 12-month period ending September 30.

Only about one in three families encountered last month was quickly expelled from the U.S. under federal pandemic-related powers that deny people a chance to seek asylum. Immigration authorities have been releasing families with children 6 and younger into the country while their cases are decided.

Mexico also has resisted taking back Central American families with young children, especially in Tamaulipas state bordering Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The US flies some families to other border cities — San Diego and El Paso — to be expelled to Mexico from there.

To save time, the Border Patrol has been releasing migrant families — about 9,600 people as of Tuesday, according to US Rep. Henry Cuellar — without notices to appear in court. Instead, they're told to report to an ICE office in 60 days.

The contract with Endeavours comes as the administration is scrambling for more space to hold families and unaccompanied children. The Border Patrol picked up nearly 19,000 children travelling alone last month, its highest monthly total on record.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — which places unaccompanied children with “sponsors”, most often parents and close relatives — has found space in convention centres, military bases and other large venues. Los Angeles County officials said Friday that its fairgrounds will be used to temporarily house up to 2,500 unaccompanied children.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent Biden critic, asked the administration to close a holding facility for unaccompanied children at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, citing allegations that they aren't getting enough to eat and boys are unsupervised in showers.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration takes the “safety and the well-being of children in our care very seriously” and that authorities would investigate Abbott's claims, but that, at this point, “we have no basis for his call” to shut down the facility.

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