'It does not take that long to process children," said Jenn Budd, former agent-turned-immigration activist.
A former Border Patrol agent claimed on Tuesday that the agency could be keeping unaccompanied minors at its holding facilities for longer than necessary in an effort to undermine the Biden administration and "punish" the children.
Jenn Budd, a former agent who now works as an immigrant rights activist with the Southern Border Communities Coalition, claimed in an explosive interview with the Independent that the law enforcement agency, which intercepts those attempting to cross into the United States, was allegedly creating its own "internal crisis" by holding unaccompanied immigrant children at Border Patrol stations for lengthy periods of time.
"It does not take that long to process children," she told the outlet, adding separately, "This is a planned, coordinated attempt to sabotage the Biden administration."
Budd also recalled an exchange she allegedly had with agents in 2019.
"I asked them why it was taking them so long to process — it didn't take that long [even] when I had to hand-write everything back in the day — and they would say, 'We're trying to teach them a lesson,'" she told the Independent.
Nothing has changed from the Trump administration in that respect, she claimed. "They do this on purpose," she said. "...The same people who separated families and created the last crisis are doing it again."
In an email Wednesday afternoon, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson addressed those allegations, saying, "DHS has continued our close coordination with HHS as it increases its capacity to care for unaccompanied minors and place them with sponsors. Our goal is to ensure that CBP has the continued capability to quickly and efficiently transfer unaccompanied minors after they are apprehended to HHS custody, as is required by U.S. law, and as is clearly in the best interest of the children."
"Addressing the flow of unaccompanied children crossing our southwest border is an important priority of this Administration and DHS. It requires a whole of government coordinated and sustained response," they added.
Recently, there have been reports of a growing number of immigrants crossing the U.S. southern border, something Republicans have seized on to accuse the Biden administration of mismanagement and bad policy. Lawmakers have tried to turn the issue into an all-out war with the White House, even utilizing language that describes the situation as a "beyond a border crisis" — mimicking rhetoric pushed by at least one anti-immigrant hate group.
Experts dispute those claims as misleading, noting the number of border apprehensions was higher under Donald Trump. Others, like Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, echo those statements but note that overall border apprehensions are up due to the Title 42 expulsion order, which requires authorities to turn away immigrants over concerns about public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"While the numbers appear quite high, it is, at least in part, because migrants are trying several times to enter the country," Pierce said.
The White House for its part says it is no longer expelling immigrant children under Title 42, but is housing them in a safe place while the administration tries to place them with relatives or sponsors in the United States.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, authorities encountered over 15,000 unaccompanied minors in the first two months this year, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. While that's an increase from the year prior, it makes up a small fraction of the overall encounters in January and February 2021, the paper noted.
Border Patrol, which is housed under U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is required to transfer the children to HHS within 72 hours. But that hasn't always happened.
According to CBS News, as of Sunday, Border Patrol was holding at least 4,200 unaccompanied children in it's jail-like facilities, with most being detained for an average of 117 hours. The outlet reported many were unable to shower and were left hungry and sleeping on the floor at night.
For now, the Biden administration is working to ease the situation by employing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid border officials with unaccompanied minors, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"We are working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the collaborative effort.
He added, "As I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child."
Updated with comments from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.