The Department of Health and Human Services offered federal employeesa> four months of paid leave if they volunteered to help care for a surge of unaccompanied migrant children at <a href="https: near the southern border, according to a report last Saturday.
The request applied to most federal workers as the Biden administration moved to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed facilities, the New York Times reported. As of last week, more than 2,700 federal employees volunteered to assist Health and Human Services officials with tasks ranging from childcare at shelters to IT services and food delivery.
Officials said border facilities have struggled to hire an adequate number of staffers, due in part to the politically fraught environment surrounding the border crisis. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have remained in custody at border facilities longer than legally permissible amid a record surge.
More than 20,000 minors are already being held at government-run shelters. The Biden administration expects the number of migrant children requiring care could exceed 35,000 by June, according to government projections obtained by the Times.
In March, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his department had identified hundreds of volunteers “to support HHS in our collective efforts to address the needs of the unaccompanied children.”
The federal government has opened several “emergency intake sites” in several states to expand bed capacity in response to the surge. Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead diplomatic efforts with the “Northern Triangle” nations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador on how best to address the root causes of the surge.
Biden and other top administration officials have said the border is closed but remained adamant that they will not move to expel unaccompanied minors from the country. Immigration officials are tasked with identifying and vetting family members or others who can care for the minors.
GOP lawmakers argue the Biden administration prompted a border crisis by reversing several Trump-era policies. The White House, in turn, asserted that Biden has worked to stabilize a neglected system he inherited from Trump.
“Despite inheriting a broken immigration system decimated by four years of neglect and poor policy decisions, the Biden administration continues to remain focused on expanding capacity and bed space,” White House spokesman Vedant Patel told the Times.