Close Emergency Intake and Influx Child Detention Sites!

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

It’s been over eight months since the first “Emergency Intake Sites” for unaccompanied migrant children opened this past summer. Today at least three sites remain open despite overwhelming evidence that these unlicensed sites are not appropriate for children and must be shut down immediately.

"Emergency intake" and "influx" facilities represent detention, not shelter; they cannot possibly provide the care and support that children need and create conditions where trauma and abuse are more likely. Nobody belongs in detention, especially children. The Biden administration must look beyond dangerous interim moves to address the systemic issues with how we receive and care for people arriving at the border, including by shutting down remaining emergency intake sites.

To: Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
From: [Your Name]

It’s been over eight months since the first “Emergency Intake Sites” for unaccompanied migrant children opened this past summer. When these sites first opened, the Biden administration said they would be “temporary" facilities to keep children out of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody (which is harmful to adults and children). However, today at least three sites remain open despite overwhelming evidence that these unlicensed sites are not appropriate for children and must be shut down immediately.

Reports about conditions at emergency intake sites are alarming, including unsanitary conditions, poor food, and lack of outdoor access. Additionally, at some sites children have reported not having regular access to clean clothing, bathrooms, and lice and scabie outbreaks. At Fort Bliss, a site in El Paso with a reported capacity to hold up to potentially 10,000 children, reports have surfaced of children being held in large tents with rows of metal beds without enough properly trained or licensed staff to provide timely care or case management. Children also report being unable to leave their cots most of the day and unable to sleep due to the cold at night. Additionally, reports of widespread depression among children and elevated levels of stress and desperation and allegations of sexual abuse have also arisen. At another facility in Pecos, TX, advocates report cage-like conditions, medical neglect, raw chicken served at mealtimes and more.

Large-scale facilities like Fort Bliss and Pecos represent detention, not shelter; they cannot possibly provide the care and support that children need and create conditions where trauma and abuse are more likely. The administration must shut these sites down and invest in solutions that consider the best interests of children, including:

-Establishing a safe and rapid process for keeping children together with trusted non parental caregivers at the border.

-Improving the reunification process to more quickly place children with family or sponsors in the US by working with trusted community-based organizations, including by removing barriers to accessing and navigating the sponsorship process for parents and other kinship caregiver sponsors.

-Expanding ORR’s network of small-scale licensed care facilities for unaccompanied children, without relying on similar dangerous and harmful models like “influx” sites.

-Proactively engaging trusted, community based non-profits to open licensed, small-scale, homelike shelters.

Additionally, the current situation with unaccompanied children is part of a pattern over the last several years due to US policies criminalizing migration and militarizing our borders. Until these dysfunctional policies are fully addressed, we will continue to see unaccompanied children in need of care. Of these many policies, the Title 42 border closure must be urgently repealed in its entirety to allow families to migrate together without the use of detention.

It’s time. Nobody belongs in detention, especially children. The Biden administration must look beyond dangerous interim moves to address the systemic issues with how we receive and care for people arriving at the border, including by shutting down remaining emergency intake sites.