DHS chief says border closed, won't give timeline for facilities capable of handling surge of unaccompanied children

“We set up three new facilities last week. … We work on the system from start to finish. We work around the clock,” Mayorkas told CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union when he spoke to the Administration schedule for commissioning new processing plants. “We have dealt with surges in the past and the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security will succeed.”

Mayorkas’s comments, who insisted that the southern border is currently closed to migrants, despite the government making an exception for unaccompanied minors, come because the situation there is worsening amid an increase in unaccompanied children in US custody. Biden’s administration has refused to call the situation a crisis, even if Democratic and Republican lawmakers do so, pressuring officials to fix the growing problem.

Bash hit Mayorkas to provide a timeline and asked, “Can you be more specific?” and “Can you give me a date that you hope is operational so these kids can have better facilities?”

The secretary, who again refused to give a date, told Bash “as soon as possible,” adding that the coronavirus pandemic had made her efforts partially difficult.

Mayorkas defended the government’s work on the southern border, blaming the Trump administration for dismantling the immigration system. His department now has to build it up “from scratch”.

President Joe Biden told reporters outside the White House later Sunday that he would visit the border “at some point” and said, “I know what is going on in these facilities” when asked if he would see the situation firsthand wool.

Biden added that his government was working to restore a program that would allow refugees to seek asylum from their home country.

As of Saturday, more than 5,000 unaccompanied children were in CBP detention, according to CNN, up from 4,500 children days ago. Mayorkas told Bash on Sunday that the government is evicting families and single adults but that they are “focusing on … the needs of the children.”

“I’ve said repeatedly from the start that a border guard is not a place for a child, and that’s why we’re working around the clock to get those children out of the border guards and into the care of the health and welfare department that they are protects, “he said.

As of Saturday, there were more than 600 children who had been detained for more than 10 days, documents show. Federal law requires unaccompanied children to be handed over to HHS, which monitors a home network for minors, within 72 hours. However, due to restrictions related to the pandemic, children will remain in detention for more than 72 hours.

On average, children stay in prison-like facilities for more than five days.

CNN previously reported that children take turns on schedules to make room for each other in cramped facilities, some children have not seen sunlight for days and others take turns taking showers, often without sunlight for days, according to case managers, lawyers and border guards. Bunk beds were moved to one of the processing facilities to cope with the influx of children. One agent said children also sleep on plastic beds and mats on the floor and on benches.

The government did not anticipate the balloon problem, officials told CNN, saying they expected the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border would increase after taking office – given their drastically different approach to immigration to that of former President Donald Trump – but that they did not expect such a large increase.

Mayorkas has warned the surge is likely to peak in two decades.

This story was updated with additional details on Sunday.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Jason Hoffman, Nikki Carvajal, Arlette Saenz and Donald Judd contributed to this report.