In a recent post, I discussed remarks DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made at a March 1 press conference, in particular his denial that there was a "crisis" at the Southwest border. The next day, Axios reported that the Biden administration needs 20,000 beds to shelter unaccompanied alien children (UACs), because DHS is expecting an onslaught of 117,000 of them this fiscal year — directly contradicting the secretary's assertions.
It was a quick about-face. That many UACs at the border would represent an increase of 45 percent over the largest number of unaccompanied children that have been "encountered" by CBP in any fiscal year. It's the definition of a "crisis", and one that portends a lot of trouble for the administration as illegal migration season gets into full swing.
Traditionally, illegal entries start to tick up in March, and hit their highs in May and June before slowly tapering off in December. So many illegal entrants, and so early, is a serious trouble sign.
UACs represent a special case, as by law, DHS has to hand them off to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in short order. HHS them places them in shelters (usually contracted) until it can locate a sponsor in the United States (most of whom are here illegally, too).
The pandemic has limited the amount of space that is available in those shelters, however. I covered all of this in my earlier post, but bring it up again to underscore just how large — and serious — the crisis really is.
That's because Axios reports that HHS is so short on space that it is planning on "chang[ing] its coronavirus protocols to make room for an additional 2,000 kids and teens".
That's fine, so long as the "science" indicates that loosening the restrictions is safe. That would assume that the population is reaching long-awaited "herd immunity", the point at which so many people have either had COVID and thus have antibodies, and/or have been vaccinated, that the virus runs out of new carriers to infect.
In January, however, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated that such immunity might take until the fall (I don't believe he has updated that forecast). The administration could limit the number of UACs who would attempt to enter in the interim by returning the UACs DHS apprehends quickly back home (under Title 42 authority, for example).
If those UACs were returned, it would both dissuade other migrants from entering illegally and free up shelter space. I seriously doubt that President Biden would allow that to happen, however, given his rhetorical attacks on how the Trump administration handled migrant children at the border.
In any event, according to Axios, even the loosening of its pandemic protocols will leave HHS a couple thousand beds short of the number that it needs for the expected UAC wave.
So, the outlet reports, HHS will speed up the release of UACs to sponsors in the United States. That is another sign of how concerned the Biden administration is about trouble brewing at the border.
The vetting of sponsors for UACs is a tricky — and no-win — business for HHS. If it takes too long, then immigrant advocacy groups and others complain that the government is slow-rolling it.
Do it too quickly, however, and it means that UACs may be released to less-than-fit parents or family members — or worse.
As my colleague Jessica Vaughan noted during a similar UAC surge in November 2015: "Government agencies and NGO contractors have lost track of most of the youth who have been released (or escaped) from shelters."
That was not even the worst part, as Vaughan explained:
In July, federal agents arrested a group of farm labor contractors running a smuggling ring for Guatemalan minors who were then put to work in harsh conditions at an Ohio egg farm. Those who come forward as sponsors are rarely screened, and so some UACs have been released to child molesters and abusers.
Axios notes that HHS has already offered to provide transportation of UACs to sponsors who cannot afford the cost. That itself is a bad sign, because if you can't (or won't) pay bus fare for your child or other relative, how will you be able to provide for that child's other needs?
As an aside, "child" in this context may be a bit of a misnomer, as 6,000 UACs who were apprehended last month were 16 or 17 — just below the age (18) at which a migrant is no longer considered a minor.
In any event, the administration's plans simply set up a vicious circle of UAC apprehensions and quick releases. There are, admittedly, a number of factors that go into the decision by any foreign national (or his or her parents) to be smuggled into the United States. The likelihood of release to live and work in the United States, however, is the strongest.
As more UACs enter illegally, are processed, and promptly released, others abroad who are considering illegal entry will be encouraged to do so. That will push Border Patrol to the breaking point, and strain HHS's resources even more.
So releases will be even quicker, HHS will pay for more UACs to be transported to family members (many if not most of whom likely paid the smuggling fee to begin with), and more UACs will come.
That is the definition of a crisis, whether Secretary Mayorkas admits it or not. He has become like Kevin Bacon's character, Chip Diller, at the end of the 1978 fraternity comedy Animal House — standing in the middle of the sidewalk as a crowd runs him down, all the while screaming: "Remain calm. All is well!"