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The New York Times

Young Migrants Crowd Shelters, Posing Test for Biden

WASHINGTON — The desperate plea landed this week in the email inboxes of employees in government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and NASA: Will you consider taking a four-month paid leave from your job to help care for migrant children in government-run shelters packed with new arrivals at the border? The request to much of the federal workforce came from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is at the heart of a frantic effort by the Biden administration to keep up with a surge in young people crossing the southwestern border hoping to reunite with relatives already in the United States. The numbers are daunting. In March, Border Patrol agents encountered nearly 19,000 children at the border — the largest number recorded in a single month — most of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. And the flow of migrant children is expected to increase in coming weeks. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times More than 20,000 children and teenagers are in the custody of a government system that is already at “103% of capacity,” including nearly 17,000 in shelters run by the health department, according to briefing materials from Operation Artemis, a response to the border crisis led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Government projections obtained by The New York Times show there could be more than 35,000 migrant children to be cared for by June — a prospect that one former senior health and human services official called “terrifying.” The ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to build shelters, move children quickly into them and then unite them with relatives and other sponsors in the United States is the first major test of whether the Biden administration can respond swiftly and effectively to a growing immigration crisis that has far-reaching political and human ramifications. The pressure is producing tension inside the White House. President Joe Biden expressed frustration with Xavier Becerra, his new secretary of health and human services, in a White House meeting March 30, for what the president views as bureaucratic holdups in increasing capacity, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange. Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Amy Pope, the president’s senior adviser for migration issues, have been aggressively pressing officials from the health department and other immigration agencies for explanations about the failure to quickly move more than 4,000 migrant youths out of jail-like detention facilities run by Border Patrol, according to several people familiar with the meetings. When they first cross the border, unaccompanied children and teenagers are taken to border jails. By law, they are supposed to be held there for no more than three days before being moved to about 150 shelters and other facilities and group…

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