Biden administration officials are investigating reports of unaccompanied migrant minors being forced to stay overnight in parked buses at a Dallas convention center.
“This is completely unacceptable,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday. “We’re quickly investigating this to get to the bottom of what happened, and we’ll work to make sure this never happens again. The safety and well-being of the children is our priority.”
Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist and executive director of the advocacy group Every Last One, said a 15-year-old Honduran boy she is working with was held on a bus from Saturday to Wednesday, using the bus bathroom during that time and unable to move about freely or communicate with family.
The boy encountered at least three other children who were held in the parking lot of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, according to Cohen, who also has been in contact with another child who was confined to a bus for an extended period.
It is unclear how many children were kept on buses overnight.
The Honduran boy’s experience comes as HHS scrambles to respond to the largest influx of unaccompanied children on record.
The department, whose lodging is more suited to long stays than Border Patrol holding facilities, has expanded its capacity to about 20,000 beds from less than 1,000 in mid-February.
It’s opened 14 emergency intake centers, including at the Dallas convention center and other large venues. The Dallas facility opened in February with plans to house up to 3,000 children.
HHS had 20,397 unaccompanied children in its custody as of Wednesday.
The government flew the Honduran boy to Seattle to reunite with his mother and uncle after NBC News inquired about his status.
MVM Inc., a transportation contractor for the government, said it has “safely and professionally” transported migrant children and families for more than six years.
“Over the last seven weeks, the number of children needing escorts in this pandemic environment has increased to more than 7,100, creating challenging travel logistics and resulting in some extended wait times on their way to reunification sites,” the company said in a statement.
MVM said it experienced some delays at a 24-hour regional hub where buses meet to get children on their way to join family, which resulted in “a child staying at that site longer than our target wait time of four hours. This is a violation of our policy and we are conducting an internal review of this incident.”
The company said the child had access to an air-conditioned bus, food, bottled water and personal protective equipment.
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