AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Biden traveled to Houston today to see for himself how Texans are faring following last week's winter weather disaster. But Biden is also expected to address criticism for reopening a Trump-era facility that housed hundreds of unaccompanied teenagers crossing the border from Mexico. The White House insists these are temporary facilities needed because of the rise in traffic at the border and also to ensure social distancing requirements due to the pandemic. But some advocates say this is far too close to the Trump administration's policy.
Here with more is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. And, Franco, to start, the Biden administration ignited essentially a panic among some advocates when they reopened this facility near the border in Texas. Can you tell us more about the response?
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Yeah. This facility is in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and it will hold 700 kids. The most public outcry came from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She tweeted that this was not OK and never will be and no matter what the administration or what party. But her concerns are echoed by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Clara Long, the associate U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch, told me today if this is a short-term solution, that may be OK, but that they've seen this type of large orphanage-type care in the past, and it was riddled with problems.
CLARA LONG: I think people are right to be concerned, and I think people are right to be speaking out and trying to hold the Biden administration to its promises because the president was elected on a platform that included a humane approach to the border.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, and she says opening up these massive facilities like the one in Texas really raise questions about whether they're following through with that promise.
CORNISH: What is the Biden White House saying about this?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, they're trying to defend itself. I mean, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said it was a tough choice but one they felt was better than either sending the kids back on a dangerous journey to their home countries or releasing them into the United States without properly vetting their potential sponsor. You know, she noted there have been cases where children were released to people who were not who they said they were.
And I do want to be clear; this is not kids in cages. The teenagers have bunk beds, access to ballfields and educational services and medical care. But it is a problem that is growing. The number of unaccompanied children alone arriving at the border increased 16% from December to January. And the numbers generally go up as the weather improves in the spring.
CORNISH: So are the comparisons fair, though, that this is very similar to the Trump administration's policy?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, it's a really tough question. This is not separating children from their parents, though some of the advocates will tell you that the Biden administration may actually be separating children from some trusted aunts and uncles, who they may have traveled with to the border. Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former senior adviser in both the Bush and Obama administrations, she acknowledges it's not ideal and that there may be a better system but that the Biden administration needs time to work all that out.
THERESA CARDINAL BROWN: A lot of the advocacy organizations, you know, saw bad things happen in facilities under the Trump administration. They're disappointed Biden is reusing them. But really, it's like, what are the alternatives that Biden would have right - the administration would have right now?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, the ultimate test, she says, is - will be how long the children will be held. And she - and both she and the advocates agree that the Biden administration needs to be transparent about how the facilities are run and show that they can move these children into homes sooner and not later.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thank you so much.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Audie.
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