For a month, Meybelin has lived in a massive convention center located in the heart of San Diego. There, along with hundreds of other migrant children, she waits day in and day out to be released to a relative in the United States, frequently calling her parents in El Salvador distraught about the prolonged wait.
Meybelin, 17, is one of the more than 20,000 minors in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services as a result of a record number of unaccompanied children and teenagers arriving at the US southern border this year. The Biden administration has scrambled to assist the department’s already-strained resources and are using a host of novel locations, like convention centers, to shelter minors. While the administration has made inroads in quickly transferring children out of jail-like Border Patrol facilities, it now faces another daunting challenge: reuniting an unprecedented number of children with family or guardians in the United States.
In more than 80% of cases, children who cross the US-Mexico border alone have a family member in the US, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But getting them to those relatives is a timely and often arduous process. Officials have been grappling with the situation along the US-Mexico border and its ramifications since the early days of the administration, as an increasing number of migrants, particularly children, arrived. The administration faced swift criticism from both sides of the aisle for their handling of the border. Republicans seized on Biden’s immigration policies, arguing they’re encouraging migrants to journey north, while immigrant advocates slammed officials for continuing to rely on a Trump-era policy that allows the swift expulsion of single adults and families attempting to illegally cross the US southern border.