Detainees in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporary overflow...

Detainees in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas on March 20, 2021. President Joe Biden's administration faces mounting criticism for refusing to allow outside observers into facilities where it is detaining thousands of immigrant children. Credit: AP

What is happening on the southern border amid rising numbers of desperate would-be immigrants matters deeply to Long Island, some 2,000 miles north.

Close to 30,000 would-be asylum-seekers who have been stalled in Mexico due to a recently rescinded Trump-era regulation are now getting their claims processed, and some 3,000 of them are likely headed for Nassau or Suffolk county, according to an estimate by the Long Island-based Central American Refugee Center.

This is just one strand of the myriad connections between the border and our backyard and one group of the many people streaming toward the United States.

The influx of newcomers to America’s border with Mexico has multiple causes, including typical seasonal surges and stark conditions in Central American countries. The uptick began last year and is continuing. President Joe Biden is telling migrants not to try entry at the border and most are still getting turned away, a point he reiterated in Thursday's news conference. Yet Biden should have been prepared for the surge. It is a part of a decades-old problem.

The result? Minors have been held far longer than legally allowed. Many are being packed together, sometimes sleeping inches apart on thin mats or grouped together behind plastic sheathing, all during a deadly pandemic. There are not enough shelter beds for the numbers we’re experiencing.

The new administration is making moves to limit the time children spend in Customs and Border Protection custody. Using the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help open emergency intake sites in Texas to ease the strain on CBP and placing minors under the control of the Department of Health and Human Services is the right call.

There is a lot of short-term work to be done, including making sure there are enough beds for young migrants in custody. Biden said federal officials are now moving quickly to link minors with sponsors in this country who can take care of them as their immigration cases unfold. He must make sure the minors, mostly older teens, don’t get lost in the shuffle.

In the long term, there must be better solutions than periodically watching as large numbers of migrants show up at the border. That means a responsible overhaul of our immigration system. One issue to start with is finding a way to do vetting in or near the country of origin of those seeking refugee status. And Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with the monumental challenge of addressing through diplomacy the "root causes" of people's decisions to leave Central America. People are fleeing climate disasters, droughts, gang problems, and destabilized governments, and the U.S. and its international partners must help.

For those who have no alternative to flight, there must be a humane system to process claims and to support those who are allowed to remain. They are the immigrants who end up across the country, including on Long Island, growing roots in new communities, as they always have.

— The editorial board