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Biden Admits Border Situation Is a 'Crisis', Houston Facility for Migrant Teen Girls Closed for Appalling Conditions

04-19-2021
MigrantGirls
Teenage migrant girls are loaded into vans to be transported out of the National Association of Christian Churches facility, on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Houston. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

President Joe Biden finally called the situation on America's southern border a "crisis" for the first time on Saturday, making that comment during an impromptu conversation with reporters in Delaware.

He made the admission while he was defending his administration's new decision to let more refugees into the country. To clarify, the refugee program is about people who come from around the globe, not just the southern border, and many are fleeing religious or political persecution.

Biden had announced earlier on Friday that he would keep the Trump administration's cap on refugee admissions at 15,000. But then on Saturday, he said he would allow more refugees, at the same time admitting the administration hasn't been able to deal with the number of refugees from around the world because of the crisis on the border with Mexico.

"The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn't do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number," Biden said.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says Biden is expected to increase the refugee cap by May 15, though she didn't say by how much.

Biden's use of the word "crisis" raised some eyebrows — and caused an uproar among conservatives, because the White House had bent over backward in recent weeks to avoid the politically charged term to describe the situation at the border, opting instead for words like "challenge."

Critics from both sides of the political spectrum had accused the president of bowing to political pressure that has been mounting over the record pace of unaccompanied migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Stephen Miller, a key architect of President Trump's immigration policies, initially tweeted that keeping Trump's cap "reflects Team Biden's awareness that the border flood will cause record midterm losses."

As CBN News reported in March, a group of 18 U.S. Republican senators toured the U.S.-Mexico border to get a firsthand look at the migrant crisis there.  

Several senators in messages posted to social media said the border appeared to be "OPEN" and they were witnessing "out-of-control illegal immigration." 

Senate Republicans in a tweet described the border situation as "a humanitarian crisis and Joe Biden needs to address it immediately."

Over the weekend, the Biden administration closed a Houston warehouse that was being used as a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. ABC News reported the facility was closed following allegations the nonprofit group running the detainment center failed to provide decent living conditions for hundreds of young girls. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set up the warehouse as a temporary holding facility earlier this month in response to the surge of migrants being allowed into the U.S.  About 450 girls had been housed since April 1 in an Emergency Intake Site for Unaccompanied Children near the Bush Intercontinental Airport. 

Officials with FIEL, an immigrant advocacy group in Houston, praised the removal of the girls that FIEL director Cesar Espinosa said are 13-17 years old.

"There was really no space for social distancing ...they were only allowed to get up from their cot to use the restroom as well as to shower," Espinosa said.

Besides a lack of outdoor space, the girls had to spend most of the day sitting or sleeping on makeshift cots. Walls of boxes around the cots were intended to give some privacy, several sources said. Meals were also delivered to the girls at their cots. 

"Everything that was being brought in was temporary. The showers were temporary, they were bringing in temporary restrooms, so this space was not equipped to house anybody, much less children," Espinosa said.

Sources told ABC News the girls were sometimes instructed to use plastic bags for toilets because there were not enough staff members to accompany them to restrooms.

"The girls were more treated like merchandise rather than treated as human beings, as people who just went through a very traumatic experience," Espinosa said. "I would not allow my 15-year-old sister to go and volunteer in a place like this because I don't know what she's going to see."

A White House spokesperson told ABC News the site was closed because it "did not meet the Biden administration's very high standard for child welfare."

The HHS said the girls were being relocated to other facilities in the area. 

The National Association of Christian Churches (NACC), a Houston-based organization that specializes in disaster relief, was awarded a $4 million contract to operate the warehouse, according to the network.  

Dean Hoover, a spokesperson for NACC, blamed the Biden administration for the warehouse fiasco, arguing that the administration actually had control over the site after bringing in its own subcontractors.

"NACC officials were personally requested by HHS Secretary (Xavie)  Becerra and President Biden to open the doors of their large Houston facility to refugee children on an emergency basis," Hoover said. "It is deeply hurtful and unfair to the folks at NACC that anyone would now think of criticizing them when all they were trying to do is be good Samaritans and help the HHS help these children," Hoover said in a statement to ABC News. 

Jose Ortega, NACC's founder, and president, recently told the Houston Chronicle that his organization had not sought the contract, but that HHS Secretary Becerra reached out to him and begged him to accept the government contract and house the girls. 

"I'm a humble pastor that was thrown into this mess without asking for it," Ortega told the newspaper. "We were not looking for a contract, we were not applying for a contract for us to make money -- this was thrown on us."

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