Crowdsourcing is No Answer to Chaos at the Border



Hours after President Biden claimed in his inaugural press conference that there is a “significant increase” in illegal immigration in the winter months “every year,” the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent a memo to all federal agencies seeking volunteers to assist with “urgent efforts” to care and house unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border.

To be clear, this kind of call to arms does not happen every year. Further, to call it a “volunteer” is a bit of a stretch since the memo notes it is “a reimbursable detail” with travel, lodging and per diem being provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The deployment details would last up to 120 days.

But OPM and Health and Human Services (HHS) is in need of “exceptional public servants to lend support to this humanitarian effort through this detail opportunity,” according to acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan. 

Detailing federal staff from other agencies is not unprecedented in times of crisis. In 2009, President Obama dispatched National Guard “volunteers” to the southern border to engage in counter-narcotics operations. In 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized National Guard troops to be sent to the border as long as relevant governors provided approval. In addition, authorizing memos strictly laid out the roles for troops, as well as the funding required.

But this is different because the Biden-Harris administration is asking for assistance from across the entire government, including individuals with seemingly no background in emergency response, and that the plan remains without a lick of clarity, direction and foresight.

For example, when pressed during her appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the nominee to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Deanne Criswell, admitted she had not been briefed about FEMA’s role at the border, nor on specifics related to funding authorization. .

Current ranking member on the committee, Ohio Republican Rob Portman, asked Criswell if it were her understanding that the Stafford Act required Biden to make a disaster declaration (as President Trump did in 2019) “before public assistance can be used to care for migrants.”

“I have not been briefed on their specific activities that they’re performing. But through the Economy Act, federal agencies can provide support to one another as they execute their missions,” she replied.

Noting that he just returned from a trip to the border, Portman suggested that FEMA was in an advisory role and any use of public funds would require President Biden issue an emergency declaration.  

“Senator, again, I’m not familiar with the details of exactly what support FEMA is providing, but I do understand that they are providing assistance with a small footprint to assist HHS and [Customs and Border Protection] with their mission. In particular of trying to identify locations to provide the sheltering for the migrants,” Criswell said.  

White House Press Secretary is equally as clueless about the strategy to deal with what Biden-Harris administration officials predict could be seven more months of unaccompanied minors surging to the border.

Asked for a “firm answer” about whether officials were expecting a “surge” in unaccompanied minors as Axios reported, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that she doesn’t “have any predictions” and tossed the onus to respond over to the Department of Homeland Security – as usual.

But what truly represents the incompetence and ad hoc approach to the humanitarian crisis is that the OPM memo advises potential volunteers that background checks will be conducted for roles that apparently will involve limited interaction with migrants. However, according to Voice of America, the Biden administration is waiving FBI background checks on staff working in the childcare facilities.

Not only does this show an utter lack of awareness about the trauma the children likely encountered on their journey to the U.S. border, but it ignores past abuses in a system where background checks were conducted.

During the Obama administration  lax vetting measures resulted in children being placed into the care of human traffickers. During the Trump administration, government agencies also “lost track” of some 1,500 children because sponsors used fake documents or refused to check in with HHS as required. It’s a disgrace and a crisis.

About Author

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Jennifer joined FAIR as Web Content Writer in 2017 and brings to the role extensive communications and media background. She began her career as a policy research analyst on multiple national and state political campaigns before entering journalism. In addition to spending over a decade writing for several broadcast and print news outlets, Jennifer directed communications strategy for a member of Congress and a military nonprofit.