Jen Psaki denies ‘kids in cages’ amid migrant children facilities reopening
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday defended the Biden administration’s reopening of a migrant facility in Texas for children, saying it is a “temporary reopening” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while also denying that they are housing “kids in cages.”
Psaki was asked by Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy about why the Biden administration was reopening a temporary facility for migrant children in Texas, in light of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris‘ past statements against facilities for migrant children while Donald Trump was president.
“Well, first, the policy of this administration […] is not to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at the border,” Psaki replied.
“The process—how it works—is that Customs and Border Control continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement,” she continued, adding that it “can take a couple of days.”
Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, Psaki said, the social distancing requirements and capacity limits at Refugee Resettlement Shelters have “been significantly reduced, because of course you can’t have a child in every bed,” adding that “[t]here needs to be spacing” in order to “ensure the health and safety of these kids”.
“So it’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19,” the press secretary said. “Our “intention is very much to close it, but we want to ensure that we can follow COVID protocols as unaccompanied minors come into the United States.”
“But it’s the same facility that was open for a month in the Trump administration,” Doocy responded. “Summer of 2019—that is when Joe Biden said, ‘Under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages.’ And Kamala Harris said, basically, babies in cages is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government. So how is this any different than that?”
The quote from Biden comes from a Miami Herald op-ed published June 24, 2019 about his Latin America policy. During Trump’s presidency, Biden repeatedly criticized him for the facilities, saying during an October debate that migrant children were “ripped from their [parents’] arms and separated.”
In July 2019, when Harris was a senator and presidential candidate, she said that Trump “has pushed policies that’s been about putting babies in cages at the border in the name of security,” instead calling it “a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government.”
“We very much feel that way,” Psaki replied.
“These are facilities—let me be clear here,” Psaki said.
“One, there’s a pandemic going on. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that we have children right next to each other in ways that are not COVID safe, are you?” she asked Doocy.
“I’m suggesting that Kamala Harris said that […] putting people in this facility was a human rights abuse committed by the United States government,” he asserted. “And Joe Biden said, ‘Under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes of border’—’at the border of kids being kept in cages.'”
“Now it’s not under Trump,” Doocy added. “It’s under Biden.”
“This is not kids being kept in cages,” Psaki retorted.
“But it’s the same facility,” Doocy pressed her.
“This is a facility that was opened that’s going to follow the same standards as other HHS facilities. It is not a replication. Certainly not,” Psaki said. “That is never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the past administration.
“But we are in a circumstance where we are not going to expel unaccompanied minors at the border. That would be inhumane. That is not what we are going to do here, as an administration,” she continued. “We need to find places that are safe under COVID protocols for kids to be, where they can have access to education, health and mental services consistent with their best interest. Our goal is for them to then be transferred to families or sponsors.”
“So this is our effort to ensure that kids are treated—are not close—in close proximity and that we are abiding by the health and safety standards that the government has been set out,” Psaki concluded.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.