Officials from two federal agencies overseeing care for migrants are pointing fingers at each other over which bears more responsibility for children detained for weeks in Border Patrol cells widely criticized as unsafe, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the number of children held in such conditions declined sharply last month, the debate over how the situation became so dire remains heated. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Thursday said the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which takes custody of children who cross the border alone, was slow to place them in shelters. “They did not do it timely. They said they had no beds,” McAleenan said, suggesting that the Border Patrol had no choice but to hold children in cinder-block cells designed for adults. His comments during a tour of a Border Patrol station came a day after HHS spokesman Mark Weber said his agency wasn’t responsible for the time children spend in detention. “We accepted every child that was referred” by the Border Patrol, Weber said during a tour of a new ORR shelter. “This is a symptom of a broken immigration system.”
The disagreements highlight officials’ failure to coordinate management of an overwhelming number of families and children crossing the border in the past year. A record 390,308 people traveling as families illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border from October through June, as did 63,624 unaccompanied children, the most since 2016. As recently as a few weeks ago, migrant minors were reported in crowded, unclean Border Patrol cells for nearly a month without regular access to food, showers and medical care. Agents disputed those reports. Authorities have rushed to process children out of detention in response to a public outcry and demands from Democratic lawmakers and a federal judge that conditions be quickly improved.