"Extraordinary circumstance": Feds to reopen border shelters for child migrants -- at full capacity, despite COVID

We’re all thinking the same thing. How can child migrant shelters be open at full capacity when American public schools aren’t?

Does the health of the federal workers who staff those shelters matter less than the health of teachers?

This decision is being made in the full knowledge that some migrants are bringing COVID with them into the U.S. Granted, kids seem to transmit the virus less than adults do, but they’re not fully immune. (Especially older children.) And now the feds are going to pack them like sardines into HHS shelters after initially operating those facilities at 50 percent capacity.

Why? Because they don’t know what else to do with the surge of children arriving at the border. They’ve manufactured a border crisis and now they’re forced to choose among unpalatable options to manage it.

The memo, drafted on CDC letterhead and set for imminent delivery, said the “only available options” for housing minors who cross the border without their parents are “prolonged stays at [Customs & Border Protection] facilities operating significantly above COVID-19 capacities.”…

The CDC says there is an assumed higher risk of migrant kids getting the virus at Border Patrol centers, and it alludes to other safety concerns with those facilities. It concludes the HHS shelters are the safer option, even with increased capacity.

You can hold them at border stations or you can send them to HHS shelters, where there are more COVID mitigation measures in place. (Or you could ship them to military bases, which is under consideration.) The least bad of the two options, per Team Joe, is to shoehorn them into the latter. This passage from CNN’s story on the move nearly knocked me off my chair:

There are approximately 7,700 unaccompanied children in HHS care. The department has around 13,650 beds to accommodate children when not under reduced capacity.

A separate document, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls the situation an “extraordinary” circumstance and says “facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases,” citing the nature of the pandemic and acknowledging “there is no 0% risk scenario.”

The ongoing intellectual and developmental damage being done to American schoolkids by being kept out of classrooms is also an “extraordinary circumstance,” my dude. But no one’s grabbing the teachers unions by the lapels and reminding them that “there is no 0% risk scenario.” To the contrary, Biden announced just a few days ago that teachers should be prioritized for vaccination this month, with a goal of getting all of them at least their first shot by the end of March. (That came as a surprise to America’s governors, and to the CDC.)

The excuse will eventually be made here that reopening schools is permanent whereas housing child migrants is temporary — three days or so on average before they’re shipped off to relatives, which means they’re not risking COVID day after day in cramped quarters like schoolchildren are. But the risk that we’re truly worried about in schools, I thought, is the risk of infection to adults, namely teachers. Students who get the virus will be fine but their teachers might not be. Adult staffers at the HHS shelters are in the same situation: The kids in their custody may rotate in and out of the shelter rapidly but the adult employees are there indefinitely. And if anything, rapid turnover of the child population may increase the staff’s risk of getting COVID relative to the average American teacher’s.

One thing you would think Team Joe might be keen to do at the border is make it seem a bit less hospitable to migrants who are en route from Central America. That’s what drove the current crisis, after all, the perception abroad that the new administration would be more willing to admit children and families seeking asylum than Trump’s administration was. And that perception has proved correct. Instead of using COVID regulations to justify turning kids away, the Biden White House is letting them — and their parents, when they’re accompanied — in. And they’re doing everything they can to signal that more are welcome:

That fits with yesterday’s news about Biden’s administration wanting to convert detention facilities into “processing centers,” where migrants will be booked and then released in the fond hope that they’ll turn up for their immigration hearing when it’s finally held. “A detention center is not where a family belongs,” said new DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas about the change of posture at the border. It’s catch-and-release for the foreseeable future, at least if you have a kid with you when you enter the U.S.

In lieu of an exit question, read this about the pace of schools reopening. Things have gotten somewhat better, with the share of virtual-only instruction declining, but fewer than half of K-12 public school students are doing full in-class learning. If only there were some “extraordinary circumstance,” like kids being emotionally and intellectually crippled by being kept out of class, to justify easing capacity limits.

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