U.S. to open overflow facility for unaccompanied migrant children

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Saturday the opening of a new, temporary overflow facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Pecos, Texas.

The Target Lodge Pecos North ICF facility will initially house some 500 children with the potential to expand to 2,000, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. The facility will be "hard-sided" rather than tented, but the department said additional "semi-permanent and soft-sided" capacity may be added if needed.

It was not immediately clear when the property would open to migrant youth.

Minors housed at the facility will receive "educational, medical, mental health, and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors without undue delay," according to HHS.

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HHS is aggressively working with our interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are safe and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible," HHS said in a statement.

Immigration officials have recorded a dramatic rise in encounters with unaccompanied children over the last month. As of Saturday, there were 5,049 unaccompanied minors in border patrol custody and a total of 9,830 immigrants of all ages also in border patrol custody. That's an increase from Thursday, when 4,615 unaccompanied children and 7,970 immigrants in border patrol custody were reported.

More than 500 migrant children had been in Border Patrol custody for more than 10 days as of Thursday, well past the three-day legal limit, as many border facilities not built to house children have far surpassed their capacity, according to new data obtained by NBC News.

Many of the children are being held in the Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of the recent migration surge. Immigrants of all ages are facing overcrowded conditions. A major cause of the overcrowding is a lack of space at facilities run by HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency designated to care for migrant children.

Immigration officials said that while the resettlement office has worked to build its capacity to nearly 13,500 beds, "additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the increasing numbers" of referrals of unaccompanied children.

The Pecos center will serve as a stop before children are transferred to resettlement shelters, where they will receive educational, medical and recreational services until they can be unified with families or sponsors.

Ainsley reported from Washington and Lozano from Los Angeles.