The Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Saturday that newly re-opened migrant detention facilities, that will house “unaccompanied minors” who are seeking asylum, may operate at 100% capacity despite the risk for COVID-19 transmission — and despite recommendations that many other facilities, including schools serving the same population, stay well below 100% capacity.
The CDC has, according to Axios, drafted a memo supporting such a plan, but also warning the federal government that facilities should “plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases.”
The Biden administration is scrambling to find housing for thousands of unaccompanied migrants coming across the United States-Mexico border, particularly as reports indicate that the number of unaccompanied migrants is expected to smash existing records by an astounding 45%, according to the Domestic Policy Council, which briefed the president on the issue last week. The DPC reportedly told President Joe Biden that 20,000 additional beds will be needed if the influx stays at the current rate of around 320 children per day.
In response, the Biden administration appears to believe no option is off the table as far as housing the child migrants. Last week, Newsweek reported that the administration’s Health and Human Services Department was considering reopening a Homestead, Florida, facility that was the subject of intense debate and regular criticism, including from then-Senator Kamala Harris.
Now, the CDC “is allowing shelters handling child migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border to expand to full capacity, abandoning a requirement that they stay near 50% to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus,” according to Axios.
The memo does outline a number of COVID-19 mitigation measures and “encourages operators to continue giving COVID-19 tests to newly-arrived children, follow 14-day quarantine guidelines, wear masks, improve ventilation and ensure they save room for isolating any child who tests positive, among other actions,” per the outlet.
“The memo, drafted on CDC letterhead and set for imminent delivery, said the ‘only available options’ for housing minors who cross the border without their parents are ‘prolonged stays at [Customs & Border Protection] facilities operating significantly above COVID-19 capacities,” Axios added, noting that the CDC is clear that there is “no 0% risk” scenario where children can be housed together. It also says that there is an assumed risk that migrant children may carry and spread the disease.
The memo “does not apply to other group settings,” though, so the CDC was careful to say that while the Biden administration may pack children into migrant detention centers, the agency’s permission should not be considered advice in other scenarios involving children, particularly given that the CDC has not spoken definitively on other child-related issues, like returning to in-classroom learning.
HHS plans to put the memo into action, according to a statement from the agency made to Fox News. “[B]ased on CDC guidance, [HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement] has notified facilities they may temporarily reactivate capacity within their full licensed capability up to safe occupancy levels.”
“The same instruction applies to influx facilities up to what ORR and the contractor determined to be safe for influx,” the agency said. “In both instances, reactivating beds must be done in a way that maintains a safe and healthy environment for [unaccompanied children] and staff.”