Record number of unaccompanied minors being held at border: report
A record number of unaccompanied minors are currently being held at the border in adult detention cells as officials deal with an influx of migrants, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Internal federal data obtained by the Post determined that a record number of almost 3,500 teenagers and children, who crossed the border without parents, are at Border Patrol stations waiting for beds in Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shelters to free up.
The shelters are filled with more than 8,500 other minors who are awaiting placement with relatives or sponsors.
In the Border Patrol stations, the minors wait in cells designed for adults for an average of 107 hours before heading to a shelter. Legally, they are only supposed to stay in these stations for 72 hours.
Over the first week of March, more than 450 teenagers and children went into HHS custody every day on average, amounting to three times as many the agency was able to place with relatives and sponsors per day, according to the Post’s analysis. Most of the migrant minors, at 87 percent, are teenagers between 13 and 17.
Troy Miller, the acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told the Post that minors being kept at stations have full access to meals, snacks and medical care, with showers every 48 hours. He said CBP continues “to struggle with the number of individuals in our custody, especially given the pandemic.”
“As far as HHS, we continue to work with them to move children out of our custody as quickly as we can,” Miller said, “and we need to move them out quicker.”
CBP did not immediately return The Hill’s request for comment on the Post report.
The Post reported that HHS is trying to find new locations to house migrant minors, including a possible site at California’s Moffett Field, a former Navy station, according to an email sent to congressional offices.
An HHS spokesperson said in a statement that the department is “aggressively working with our interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are safe and united with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible.”
HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) informed facilities last week that they might have to temporarily allow full capacity, up to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
The spokesperson said the department “will utilize all available options to safely care for the children referred to us.”
“In the short-term, we can ensure children do not spend more time in border patrol facilities than necessary by looking at all opportunities to increase capacity in its permanent/licensed network and using influx care facilities when additional space is immediately needed,” the spokesperson said.
“Simultaneously, ORR is committed to aggressively moving toward the long-term goal of acquiring enough state-licensed beds in our care provider network to reduce the need for influx facilities.”
Department of Homeland Security officials are concerned that the surge of migrants at the border will be the largest in decades, according to the Post.
CBP data found that February saw a 61 percent increase in unaccompanied minors being taken into custody. This month, the Biden administration is on track to take in a record number of unaccompanied minors.
Under former President Trump’s administration, the most unaccompanied teenagers and children kept “this way” reached about 2,600 in June 2019, according to officials’ congressional testimony.
The Trump administration was heavily criticized for keeping children in “cages” in 2018 in a CBP warehouse that has been shut down for renovations.
Updated on Thursday at 6:52 p.m.