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El Paso Group Provides Legal Help To Unaccompanied Migrant Minors Held At The Border

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Biden administration is facing a big challenge at the U.S./Mexico border. Hundreds of unaccompanied minors are arriving every day, overwhelming the government's ability to process and transfer them to sponsors. Usually, these are family members. As a result, thousands of children without guardians are being held in warehouse-like detention facilities. FEMA has been mobilized to help out. Melissa Lopez is an immigration attorney and director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services in El Paso, Texas.

Welcome.

MELISSA LOPEZ: Hello. How are you?

CHANG: Good. So your organization, I understand, provides legal representation for many of these unaccompanied minors. Can you just talk about how has this surge been affecting your work right now?

LOPEZ: I mean, the reality is, is that a lot of these children are still stuck at the border. And so it hasn't really affected us too much at this point because we're still waiting for the children to actually reach our shelters where we provide services. And so we're anxiously waiting for them. You know, well, a lot concerned about the conditions the children might be in. And these Border Patrol holding facilities and these temporary shelters that have been set up are obviously not ideal conditions for children. And so we would much prefer that they be in the regular or in our shelters.

CHANG: Well, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and Republican members of Congress have blamed this most recent surge on the Biden administration, saying that President Biden's policies are a green light to migrants crossing the border. Do you think the influx we're seeing right now is being driven by the change in administration?

LOPEZ: No, I don't. I think that the reality is, is that so long as there are push factors in these countries that require people to leave in order to be able to eat regularly, in order to be able to have a safe place to sleep at night, these numbers will continue. Trump and his administration did absolutely everything possible to keep people from even being able to step foot on U.S. soil because once they step foot on U.S. soil, then they have rights.

CHANG: So you see this influx being made up of people who are just simply waiting to enter the U.S. during the Trump administration and now don't have to wait anymore.

LOPEZ: I think that many of them knew that if they tried to enter, they would probably, you know, face severe injuries, physical injuries or even death if they tried to enter. You know, I think that it's just people are actually now being allowed to enter, which is well within the law and which should have been done under the Trump administration as well.

CHANG: Well, with respect to the current surge in migrants, especially unaccompanied minors, how would you assess the Biden administration's efforts in handling the situation right now?

LOPEZ: You know, it's really tough. I think - under the Biden administration, I think, unfortunately, they were so laser-focused on the migrant protection protocols or Remain in Mexico and making sure that those asylum seekers could enter the United States as quickly as possible, that I don't think that they saw the surge of immigrant children. But I am really happy to see that additional resources are being put into the need for migrant children to be in a safe place. Again, I'm not advocating for these temporary shelters along the border, but the more quickly that children can be tested for COVID to make sure that they can safely go into a shelter or could be returned and reunified with their family, I hope that the help that's being requested from FEMA will ensure that the children won't languish in these temporary shelters for long at all.

CHANG: Melissa Lopez is director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services in El Paso, Texas.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LOPEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.