As the migration crisis at the southern border continues and unaccompanied children from Trump-era family separations remain apart from their parents, the number of migrant children in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate, quickly outpacing the resources of the US government.
- According to new government data, almost 19,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the southern border in March. This record number of people has driven the Biden administration to use camps for oil workers, a military base, and convention centers to house migrant teenagers. Previously, the highest number of unaccompanied children found crossing the border was 12,000, set in March of 2019. Since border officials have not been expelling these children since November 2020 and federal law mandates that non-Mexican unaccompanied minors be sent to the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee office within three days, many minors are being kept in over-crowded centers despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and in violation of the law.
- According to a report filed to the federal court, inspectors charged to oversee the conditions of migrant children under CBP custody in southern Texas reported, “severe overcrowding” that made social distancing “functionally impossible.” Moreover, the report highlighted the lack of enough caretakers for the number of children at these facilities, and stated that, on some occasions, migrant children slept mat-to-mat, breaking social-distancing guidelines and taking up space for “walking, reading, or play.” Some children even reported that showers were infrequent. In addition, the report found that the medical staff working at the center required outside help to provide the necessary aid to unaccompanied minors.
- Despite these crises at the border, the Biden administration has stated that “[they] have made significant progress” in tackling the rise of unaccompanied migrant minors crossing the southern border, citing their efforts to provide around 20,000 beds for the children and to provide help for struggling Central American communities. Despite these statements, overcrowding at Border Patrol centers still runs rampant, with the number of children in HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) housing and emergency shelters reaching record heights. It should be noted that the Biden administration has been able to open 11 additional emergency housing facilities and has increased capacity at other-preexisting centers. Moreover, the Office of Refugee Resettlement now has help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many more volunteers to help release the unaccompanied children to their sponsors.
- In addition to these statements, the Biden administration has also found 5,600 files from the beginning of 2017 that may reveal evidence of other Trump-era family separations. The newly acquired files, from the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, deals with a time that was overlooked during the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) lawsuit against Trump’s administration. Officials have stated that the list they found when Biden first came into office “was not comprehensive and included large timeframes that had not been reviewed,” leaving the possibility of “a few additional families,” who had been separated at the border. As of now, there is no timeline for reuniting the separated families and the Biden administration is still in the midst of settlement negotiations with the ACLU.
- This past Wednesday, lawyers responsible for reuniting separated migrant families announced that they successfully connected with the parents of 61 children. As of today, there are still 445 separated children whose parents have not been located. Out of these 445 unaccompanied minors, lawyers believe that the parents of 302 children have been deported, while the parents of the 129 are still in the United States. The United States government has yet to provide the contact information for the remaining 14 children.
Photo Credit: Charles Edward Miller