The Washington Times Daily

Coronaviru­s rampant in facilities holding migrant children.

Rate of infection is 4.5% as of March, according to federal data

- BY STEPHEN DINAN

COVID-19 exists in every shelter holding migrant kids, with some of those shelters reporting positivity rates above 30%, according to data filed Friday in a federal court case over the treatment of the children.

Of the 12,313 unaccompan­ied children who were in custody of the federal Health and Human Services Department as of March 31, 558 of them were COVID-19 positive. That’s a rate of about 4.5%.

The children are scattered at more than 70 shelters, ranging from a four-bed site in New York to multiple sites with more than 1,000 beds in California and Texas. Even the four-bed shelter had one case as of March 31, according to Aurora MirandaMae­se, the coordinato­r reporting to a federal judge on conditions in the HHS-run facilities.

The number of positive cases likely surged since the March 31 data, since the population being held in the facilities rose nearly 50% between then and April 7, the most recent date for which the coordinato­r reported a total figure.

Most of the children with coronaviru­s acquired it before they were placed in the facilities, meaning they either brought it into the U.S. with them when they jumped the border or caught it from fellow infected kids while being held in overcrowde­d Border Patrol facilities.

The unaccompan­ied children are those who show up at the border without parents.

Under current U.S. policy, most of them are required to be processed by border authoritie­s and turned over to HHS shelters within 72 hours. The shelters are then to try to place them with sponsors.

Children who show up with parents are a separate category.

Some of those families are being expelled under a coronaviru­s pandemic health emergency order, but the majority are being admitted.

The Biden administra­tion blames Mexico for not being willing to take them back across the border.

Most families admitted are being released directly into border communitie­s, but some are being transferre­d to U.S. Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t for short-term processing at two facilities in Texas.

According to a court-ordered report on those ICE facilities, 13.5% of the population was COVID-19 positive as of April 2.

That may be higher than the actual rate of positive cases among the families, since migrants who test positive are held in isolation until their cases are cleared. Those who test negative are supposed to be released within 72 hours, under ICE’s current target timetable.

Overall, the government has improved its handling of migrants with COVID-19.

The Border Patrol doesn’t have capacity to test, instead settling for a quick health assessment, so in the early going, as the number of families began to overwhelm agents, they were releasing parents and children into communitie­s without any testing.

Some communitie­s were able to step up and do testing, usually relying on local nonprofits, but even then they admitted they didn’t have the power to force quarantine­s. And many jurisdicti­ons didn’t have nonprofits that had the capacity to handle testing.

Now, most communitie­s along the border do have capacity and can quarantine, with federal reimbursem­ent for the costs. And in communitie­s where the capacity is still lacking, Homeland Security says it’s now paying for a contractor to do testing.

Friday’s coordinato­r reports were ordered by U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, who from her California courtroom has been one of the most influentia­l figure in setting the trajectory of illegal migration to the U.S. over the last five or six years.

A 2015 ruling by Judge Gee limiting the time families could be held in detention helped spur the family migrant surges of 2016 and 2019, and a new family surge is developing now, based on the latest border numbers.

One of the coordinato­r reports by Henry A. Moak Jr., the chief accountabi­lity officer at Customs and Border Protection, said this surge has created “unpreceden­ted and unique challenges.”

He described conditions in the border facilities as so crowded that social distancing is impossible, but said masks are distribute­d and regularly replaced for the migrants, and agents who process and care for the people in custody are required to wear N-95 respirator­s.

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