Variety of unaccompanied migrant children in US custody up 25% since final week, administration dealing with unprecedented disaster
The number of unaccompanied adolescents and children in US custody on the US-Mexico border has reached record highs, forcing children to stay longer in dangerously overcrowded border facilities, many of which resemble prison. Several sources have verified the latest government data from ABC News.
There are currently 4,276 children in custody, up from around 3,400 at the beginning of the week. This is an increase of 25%. ABC News is worrying, according to sources, and could create an environment last seen during the 2018-2019 surge, in which six migrant children died in U.S. custody.
Overcrowding, as measured by prepandemic, has increased, various sources told ABC News, which reviewed the latest government data. The Rio Grande Valley is 363% busy and all major border guard sectors are well over 100% busy.
The current average time children spend in facilities that normally accommodate adult men for 24 hours has increased to 117 hours – 45 hours longer than legal custody limits.
This time has also increased significantly over the past week.
Migrants look through the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo to report to U.S. border guards and apply for asylum in El Paso, Texas, the United States, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 14, 2021.
Most children are fed and have access to movies, but they sleep on thin pillows on the floor with just gauzy foil blankets to keep them warm, according to Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.
“There was no social distancing. This facility is at full capacity,” Escobar said of the facility she attended in El Paso, Texas.
The data shows that most of the children, over 2,600 of them, have been fully processed by border guards but are waiting to be taken to the U.S. Department of Health (HHS) facilities designed to protect minors.
The data also shows the bottleneck and the administrative challenge will only increase.
The number of juveniles arrested at the border is increasing every week, has averaged over 500 over the past two weeks, and the total number of possible arrests over a four-week period is an unprecedented 15,000.
Traditionally, the number of migrants attempting to enter the US increases in late spring.
“The government needs to act faster and is taking steps to move faster,” said Denise Bell, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International. “And in the meantime, we need to acknowledge that we don’t want to put children at risk by getting them out on the streets when they arrive or sponsors who haven’t been screened but need more capacity and have to move faster.”
Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security mobilized FEMA to protect and transport the unaccompanied children.
“I am grateful for the exceptional talent and responsiveness of the FEMA team,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, Minister of Homeland Security, in a statement. “I am incredibly proud of the Border Patrol agents who have worked around the clock in difficult circumstances to temporarily look after children in our care. But as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is not a place Child.”
According to several sources, there are around 8,800 unaccompanied migrants who are currently under the responsibility of the Office for Resettlement of Refugees in the health and social services. That is from 8,100 last Wednesday.
Shelter capacity is usually over 13,000, but the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced this. Still, ORR confirmed in a statement that it has authorized facilities in its network to open up to prepandemics.
“Additional protective capacities minimize the likelihood of children staying longer than necessary in border patrol stations, where they are also exposed to COVID-19 transmission risks and child welfare concerns related to such attitudes,” said a statement from ORR. “Overcapacity border stations pose a higher risk of infection for children than ORR program locations that operate at full licensing capacity but employ other COVID-19 mitigation measures.”
The backlog is likely to remain due to stricter health guidelines enforced by state licensing officials.
“We can’t turn on a light switch,” said a senior civil servant. “Therefore, it will be very important that these state licensing officers and state health authorities understand and implement this CDC memo so that our facilities can make these changes.”