WASHINGTON – Press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House is facing “really difficult choices” on how to address the surge of undocumented migrant children coming to the United States.
“It’s incredibly difficult and quite an emotional issue for many of us in the White House, whether you’re a parent or not, or just watching these stories and hearing these reports,” Psaki said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
More than 3,250 migrant children are in custody along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a report by The New York Times . Many of the children are staying in holding cells longer than the three days allowed by law, The Times reported.
Psaki said thousands of children are crossing the U.S. southern border because “this administration did not feel that it was humane or moral to send kids back … on the treacherous journey back to countries where they were fleeing persecution, where they were fleeing really difficult circumstances.”
She noted that because of the influx, it has been difficult to find facilities to transfer children where they could have access to lawyers, education and health care. She also said the Biden administration is taking more time to vet sponsors, or the adults to whom children would be turned over from the migrant facilities.
“During the Trump administration, sometimes there was a jump to connect kids to individuals, to adults, who claimed they were family members or claimed they knew them,” Psaki said. “There are issues of child trafficking, we need to prevent that, too.”
Under U.S. law, migrant children are separated from the adults with whom they arrive – often a grandparent, older sibling or other relatives – until federal officials can confirm the accompanying adult is their relative. The procedure is designed to protect minors from human traffickers and grant them legal protections, and it is different from the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents.
Children are often transferred to federal shelters until their sponsor is fully vetted, which could take weeks or months.
Psaki said the problem is “something that is front and center” for President Joe Biden.
“I’ve been in many meetings with the president where he asked: ‘How can this be faster? How many teachers do they have access to? Do we have enough health and medical experts?'” Psaki said. “Those are the kinds of conversations that are happening internally.
“The challenge is there are a lot of really difficult choices. We are trying to chart the best path forward. But there’s no question, this is a heartbreaking circumstance at the border.”