WH: Biden Using CBP Facility That Kept Kids in Cages During Trump Administration Because of Social Distancing

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Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait to board a van which will take them to a processing center, on May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – A Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility in Texas that was criticized by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during the Trump administration for keeping kids in cages is being used temporarily to house migrant children during the Biden administration, the White House acknowledged Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the Biden administration reopened a temporary facility for migrant children in Texas to maintain social distancing protocols at shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement where they will be transferred.

“First the policy of this administration — as you all know but just for others — is not to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at the border, and the process, how it works is that Customs and Border Control continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the H.H.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That can take a couple of days,” Psaki said.

“I just want to get this context so you understand the process, but because of COVID-19 protocols, like social distancing requirements, the capacity of existing Office of Resettlement shelters has been significantly reduced because you can’t have a child in every bed. There needs to be spacing,” she said.

“We abide by the spacing to protect the kids who are living in those facilities for a short period of time, and to ensure the health and safety of these kids, H.H.S. took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity where these children can be provided the care they need before they are safely placed with families and sponsors,” the press secretary said.

“So it’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19. Our intention is very much to close it, but we want to ensure that we can follow COVID protocols as we — as unaccompanied minors come into the United States,” Psaki added.

“But it’s the same facility that was opened for months in the Trump administration. Summer 2019, that is when Joe Biden said, under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids kept in cages, and Kamala Harris said basically babies in cages is a human rights abuse of the United States government. So how is this any different from that?” Fox News White House Correspondent Pete Doocy asked.

“We very much feel that way. These are facilities — let me be clear here. One, there is a pandemic going on. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that we have children right next to each other in ways that are not COVID safe, are you?” Psaki said.

“I am suggesting that Kamala Harris said that this facility was a human rights abuse committed by the United States government and Joe Biden said, under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes of border – at the border of kids being kept in cages. Now it’s not under Trump. It’s under Biden,” Doocy said.

“This is not kids being kept in cages. This is a facility that was opened. That’s going to follow the same standards as other HHS facilities. It is not a replication, certainly not. That is never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the past administration, but we are in a circumstance where we are not going to expel unaccompanied minors at the border,” Psaki said.

“That would be inhumane. That is not what we are going to do here as an administration. We need to find places that are safe, under COVID protocols for kids to be, where they can have access to education, health and mental services, consistent with their best interests. Our goal is for them to then be transferred to families or interests,” the press secretary said.

“Our goal is for them to then be transferred to families or sponsors. So this is our effort to ensure that kids are treated — are not in close proximity and that we are abiding by the health and safety standards that the government has set out,” she said.

Another reporter pointed out that more than 100 migrant children spent more than three days at the facility, which is against the law, and immigration attorneys and advocates are calling it “a step backwards.”

“Picking up on HHS facility versus Customs and Border Protection facility, there is a law that says the kids need to get out of those facilities, the CBP facility for three days, but data we obtained said that there were at least 179 kids who had spent more than three days in those kids of facilities in January, despite internal policy dictating that all minors should get out within three days,” the reporter said.

“Immigration attorneys,  attorneys that work with these kids, advocates, all of them saying this isn’t much better than what was going on before. In regards to the HHS – the use of the HHS facilities, they say it’s a step backwards. So there’s the criticism that was made by candidates Biden and Harris, and there’s the criticism, concern now with these attorneys who work and represent these children who say, this is not different than what the Trump administration was doing,” he added.

“Well, let me first say that you’re right, that kids – there’s about a 72-hour time frame where kids should be transferred from CBP facilities to HHS-sponsored facilities, and that is certainly our objective. In terms of the specific kids that you mentioned, I would send you to DHS to give you more information on that, but that is not — that is not what we are hoping to achieve,” Psaki said.

“We want these kids to be in facilities where they are getting access to health and medical assistance, to education. As you know, there are a number who have come into the country, and we’re trying to manage that as well and ensure that we are able to transfer them as quickly as possible, not just to stay in HHS facilities either, to get them into families and sponsored homes,” she said.

“That is our human and moral objective from this administration, but I would send you to DHS for any specifics on those kids. It’s a fair question,” the press secretary added.

When asked whether the government is doing enough to make clear to Central America that it’s not worth migrants traveling to the U.S. border, Psaki said, “Well, we can always do more, and I think the challenge here, as you know, is that people are fleeing prosecution. 

“They’re fleeing very difficult economic circumstances and hardship, and there hasn’t been enough time to do enough to impact the circumstances on the ground in a number of these communities, and obviously, as these unaccompanied kids come to the border it’s completely heartbreaking. We’re not going to expel these kids,” she said.

“We want to process and get them into facilities as quickly as possible, but certainly we’re always looking for ways to do more, to communicate more effectively and clearly with communities in the region about why this is not the time to come. We need more time to put in place a humane and moral immigration system,” the press secretary said.

“Parents should not be sending their kids north?” the reporter asked. 

“Absolutely not,” the press secretary said. “This is not the time to come. We have not had the time to put in place an immigration system, an immigration policy. We don’t have the processing we need at the border. Obviously, we’re continuing to struggle with facilities to ensure we’re abiding by COVID protocols so this is definitely not the time to come.”