Obama calls spike in children crossing border 'urgent' situation


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.

But youths are coming into the system faster than they can be processed and released, a DHS official said. As of Friday, that had created a logjam of more than 2,000 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody in the Rio Grande Valley. About half of them were there for more than 72 hours, the official said.

ORR, which normally houses children in a sprawling network of state-licensed shelters and other facilities, is also overwhelmed.

ORR announced plans to start housing up to 600 children at a naval base in Ventura County in California, as early as next week. In May, they started putting an overflow of children on an air force base in San Antonio.


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