President Barack Obama on Monday called the spike in children and teenagers caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone in recent months an “urgent humanitarian situation,” bringing in FEMA to coordinate federal efforts to provide their housing, transportation and medical care.
In a presidential memorandum, Obama called for a coordinated, multi-agency effort to address the influx of unaccompanied children entering the country illegally from Central and South America. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate was tapped to spearhead coordination of the efforts, aimed in part at easing overcrowding in Border Patrol stations in South Texas.
“The influx of unaccompanied alien children across the Southwest border of the United States has resulted in an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated federal response,” Obama said in a presidential memorandum.
Record-breaking numbers of children and teens from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are being swept into a deeply strained detention network in the U.S. Some 60,000 are expected this year – more than nine times as many as in 2011.
In the past month, the numbers have shot up dramatically, with some 400 children detained in the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas in a single day last week. Border Patrol stations in south Texas – designed to hold people only for a matter of hours – are overcrowded, leaving children to sleep for days on metal benches or concrete floors.
By law, unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico are supposed to be turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency charged with their long-term care, within 72 hours.
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