Washington, DC – Over the past eight years the composition of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border has significantly changed, shifting from mostly Mexican adults seeking work to large numbers of Central Americans—including families and children—seeking asylum. This paradigm shift has overwhelmed existing infrastructure several times now, leading to humanitarian emergencies, with migrants held in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. In 2019, the Bipartisan Policy Center put forward a plan for an “immigration Federal Emergency Management Agency” that would be a flexible response-unit that could support the Department of Homeland Security’s mission and provide humanitarian services whenever and, more importantly, wherever a large unexpected increase in immigration occurs.
Yesterday’s announcement from the Biden administration’s DHS, directing FEMA to support the government’s efforts to manage the record number of unaccompanied child arrivals, is a positive development that aligns with BPC’s proposal.
“This is a prudent step that shows the Biden administration is taking the situation seriously,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, BPC managing director of immigration and cross-border policy. “FEMA’s bread-and-butter is responding quickly to humanitarian and logistical challenges in response to natural disasters. These capabilities are exactly what is needed in this moment to effectively manage migration at the southern border.”
“FEMA has experience in locating and setting up temporary housing facilities, working with non-government organizations to provide humanitarian services, and coordinating among federal, state, local, and private sector partners,” said Brown.
“In the longer term, the United States needs to make this type of capacity a regular feature of the entire immigration system—the ability to rapidly surge resources, including adjudication resources, to address increases in migration, and prevent a crisis from occurring in the future,” said Brown.
Analysis: Solving the Crisis at the Border: Immigration FEMA (2019)
Op-ed in The Hill: America Needs a Surge Force to Address the Immigration Crisis (2019)
Op-ed in The Washington Post: ‘Kids in Cages’ is a Distraction. The Real Problem is a Lack of Migrant Housing. (2021)