An emergency shelter for unaccompanied minors at Fort Bliss was expected to receive 500 children on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Biden administration has ramped up capacity to house thousands of children arriving at the Southwest border without a parent or legal guardian. Last week, the administration announced that facilities at El Paso’s Fort Bliss would serve as temporary housing for up to 5,000 unaccompanied minors.
HHS on Tuesday said it will reserve the Fort Bliss accommodations for boys ages 13 to 17. Military personnel won’t staff the site or provide care for the children, who are in the custody and care of HHS, the department said in a statement.
“The use of the Fort Bliss facility will have no impact on the Department of Defense’s ability to conduct its primary mission or on military readiness,” according to the HHS statement.
Under the umbrella of HHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement operates a network of more than 200 shelters in 22 states for unaccompanied migrant children.
That network of state-licensed shelters includes capacity for 13,500 beds, but “additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the increasing numbers of unaccompanied child referrals from the Department of Homeland Security,” HHS said.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement currently has about 13,800 unaccompanied minors in its care.
Fort Bliss is considered an “emergency intake site” and a temporary measure to quickly remove the children from the custody of the Border Patrol, HHS said.
Advocates have historically decried so-called “influx” shelters because they skip over state licensing and, as emergency sites, can’t provide the full scope of care that permanent shelters provide.
The number of unaccompanied youths arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has risen each of the past three months to more than 9,000 in February, quickly outpacing the administration’s ability to house them in state-licensed shelters — which had reduced their capacity due to COVID-19.
The shelter at Fort Bliss “is providing required standards of care for children, such as providing clean and comfortable sleeping quarters, meals, toiletries, laundry, recreational activities and access to medical services,” HHS said. “All children are tested for COVID-19 before being transported to the Fort Bliss EIS.”
They’re tested every three days for COVID-19, and representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on site to monitor pandemic protocol, HHS said.
Office of Refugee Resettlement caseworkers work to connect the children to a parent or sponsor in the U.S.
“All efforts are being made to safely release children to sponsors or transfer them to other ORR care providers as quickly as possible,” HHS said. “This approach will help ensure children are moved into ORR shelters, where children receive educational, medical, mental health and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors without undue delay.”
About 80% of children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have a parent or family member in the U.S., HHS said.
(c) 2021 the El Paso Times
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