Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, pressed Congress on Monday to overhaul the nation’s immigration system after he visited an emergency shelter for migrant children on the Fort Bliss military base near El Paso.
“I would really encourage our colleagues in the House and the Senate to consider taking that proposal on so we can get to a system that works,” Mr. Becerra said on a call with reporters, referring to a plan that President Biden offered early in his administration. Passing a measure is becoming increasingly unlikely.
The temporary shelter at Fort Bliss, which is made out of soft-sided tents on desert land, is among about a dozen that the Biden administration set up this spring to house a record number of migrant children and teenagers coming across the southwest border.
The care the Biden administration is providing at the shelter has drawn complaints, including reports that thousands of children slept on cots and in close quarters, and that there had not been enough case workers to place the children with family members in the United States. Mr. Becerra said on Monday that his agency had trained more case workers and was now discharging children to relatives more quickly.
As of Monday morning, there were more than 14,000 migrant children under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, about 5,000 of whom were staying in emergency shelters like Fort Bliss that lack the higher standard of care required for the department’s network of licensed shelters. The rest are in facilities that are part of the licensed shelter network, or in another facility with a higher standard of care than what is in place at the emergency shelters.
Mr. Becerra first visited the Fort Bliss facility in late May, when about 4,300 children were being held there. The number has dropped significantly since then in response to concerns about the huge site, which was designed to hold up to 10,000 children. Mr. Becerra said on Monday that fewer than 800 children, all boys, were now staying there.
“We understand that we have a job to do and a legal obligation to make sure they are safe and healthy,” Mr. Becerra said of the migrant children in the department’s custody.
Most adult migrants arriving at the border this year have been turned back because of a public health rule applied during the pandemic. But the Biden administration has been allowing children and teenagers who arrive alone to enter the country.
“We need to fix this broken immigration system,” Mr. Becerra said. “We need to be prepared to handle circumstances like this, and we need to do it in the best way possible.”
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