Facilities housing migrant children will be allowed to operate at full capacity despite previous requirements that shelters operate at a reduced capacity to slow the spread of COVID-19, a Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation on Friday.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention memo first reported by CNN granted permission for facilities managed by HHS to operate at full capacity as the number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. continues to rise.
“Today based on CDC guidance, [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] has notified facilities they may temporarily reactivate capacity within their full licensed capability up to safe occupancy levels,” a spokesperson for the HHS Administration for Children and Families told the DCNF.
“Reactivating beds must be done in a way that maintains a safe and healthy environment for [unaccompanied children] and staff,” the spokesperson said.
HHS facilities are safer for children than Customs and Border Protection stations, according to the spokesperson.
A memo drafted on CDC letterhead said “facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases,” according to CNN.
Currently, the “only available options” for holding unaccompanied children are “prolonged stays at [CBP] facilities operating significantly above COVID-19 capacities.”
“At this time, CBP does not have adequate space for physical distancing, quarantine of persons exposed to COVID-19 or isolation of ill or infected persons,” the memo said.
The number of unaccompanied migrants held in CBP custody was down to “a handful” before the 2020 presidential election, former CBP commissioner Mark Morgan told the DCNF.
“HHS is already overwhelmed” by the increasing number of unaccompanied minors, and more than 2,000 migrant children are currently in CBP custody, Morgan said.
“This is back to the crisis-level numbers we had in 2019. … Now not only are [unaccompanied children] backing up Border Patrol facilities but their time in custody is increasing,” Morgan said.
Internal documents show CBP has housed migrant children for more than 72 hours, the maximum length of time children can be legally held by CBP before being transferred to HHS facilities, CNN reported earlier this week.
Over 10 percent of unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 before the inauguration in January, according to Morgan.
“This was the whole reason that we were not letting people into the country during a global pandemic and this administration has said, ‘Nope, don’t care.’”
“I think you’re going to see the unaccompanied minor numbers well in excess of 9,000 in February,” Morgan said. “So we’re right back where we were at the height of the crisis in 2019.”
Over 300 unaccompanied minors are being referred to HHS facilities daily and an expected 20,000 beds will be needed to accommodate the migrants.
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