Mahalia Velazco, eight, was separated from her father, Hugo Enrique Velazco, a Mexican citizen who had been living undocumented in the US, when he was deported several years ago. Photograph: David Maung/EPA
Health and human services secretary voices concerns to Congress over money available to house high numbers of unaccompanied children crossing border.
After a spike in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the US-Mexico border illegally in the past two months, a top health official has voiced renewed concern that too little money will be available to house the children, risking another border crisis, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.
In the letter Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, tells members of the House appropriations committee that even with increased contingency funding requested by the president, the agency still faces a shortage that could lead to “the situation we faced in (2014) when children were left at the border for unacceptable periods of time”.
Agency spokesman Mark Weber said the secretary is communicating with members of Congress to take all the necessary steps to “make sure that we’re prepared”, and that the letter doesn’t demand funds beyond the president’s budget request.
The administration is hoping to avoid a repeat of the crisis it saw in the summer of 2014, when tens of thousands of children and families poured over the south-west border. Border Patrol holding areas became overcrowded, with children sleeping on concrete floors covered by aluminum foil-like blankets. The surge in children arriving without parents overwhelmed the US government and the White House labelled it “a humanitarian crisis”.
A total of 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the US-Mexico border in October and November, compared with 5,129 who crossed during the same two months last year, according to US Border Patrol. The uptick has already prompted the agency to open two shelters in Texas and one in California.
Burwell says in her letter that “it’s impossible to know whether these trends will continue”.
Border crossings have not reached the levels of summer last year, when more than 10,000 children arrived in the United States that June alone.