The administration of US President Joe Biden is facing blowback after reports surfaced that facilities for migrant children previously slammed by Democrats are reopening as it is set to begin processing asylum claims at a camp on the Texas-Mexico border.
The camp, which is home to hundreds of mostly Central American asylum seekers, “has recently been hard hit by extreme weather in northern Mexico. As President Biden continues to rebuild the nation’s border management in a way that reflects America’s values, addressing humanitarian needs in Matamoros has become a priority,” the US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Some people have been living at the camp for more than a year under former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The move comes as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki denied the Biden administration was putting “kids in cages”, a common criticism of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, during a Tuesday press briefing.
The US is reopening a tent facility for unaccompanied migrant teenagers in Texas, and a shelter in Miami, Florida, both of which have been closed since 2019, as it deals with a surge of attempted southern border crossings by asylum seekers.
“This is not kids being kept in cages,” Psaki said at the briefing. “This is a facility that was opened that’s going to follow the same standards as other [Health and Human Services] facilities” in keeping in line with COVID-19 safety protocols.
Referencing the Texas facility, Fox News’ Peter Doocy said “it’s the same facility that was open for a month in the Trump administration” that Democrats decried.
Doocy recalled comments Biden made in 2019. “Biden said, ‘Under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages.’ And [Vice President] Kamala Harris said, basically, babies in cages is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government. So how is this any different than that?”
As president, I will immediately put in place a meaningful process to review asylum cases. I will release children from cages. I will get rid of the private detention centers. It’s time we had a president whose actions reflected the values of our country.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 5, 2019
Psaki responded by saying the Biden administration still feels the immigration policies of the previous administration were a human rights violation, but these were temporary measures taken in order to not expel migrant children while adhering to recommendations from health officials on social distancing.
Progressives like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have called the move “unjust” and “callous”.
Ocasio-Cortez, who protested another tent facility in Tornillo, Texas, in 2018, tweeted: “This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party.”
It’s only 2 mos into this admin & our fraught, unjust immigration system will not transform in that time.
That’s why bold reimagination is so impt.
DHS shouldn’t exist, agencies should be reorganized, ICE gotta go, ban for-profit detention, create climate refugee status & more.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 23, 2021
Omar, herself a refugee, tweeted: “Multiple administrations have made the callous choice to lock up thousands of children seeking refuge in the United States of America. As long as we see people seeking a better life as ‘aliens’ instead of fellow human beings, our immigration system will continue to fail us.”
Multiple administrations have made the callous choice to lock up thousands of children seeking refuge in the United States of America.
As long as we see people seeking a better life as “aliens” instead of fellow human beings, our immigration system will continue to fail us. https://t.co/xE1lmgSnJj
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 24, 2021
“We urge the Biden administration to provide full transparency and accountability for these temporary shelters: Independent organizations and lawyers must have access to monitor them, they must be run by responsible non-profit providers, and they must be closed as soon as public health permits,” the ACLU said in a statement.
Biden has signed orders to undo many of Trump’s migration policies and his immigration reform proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants has been met with praise by advocacy organisations.
DHS said the registration of asylum claimants from the camp in Matamoros will be done “as quickly as possible” and each individual “will complete all necessary security screening, as well as testing for COVID-19”.