Around 1,000 migrant children who crossed through America’s southern border have been held in overcrowded US Border Patrol facilities for longer than the legal 72-hour time limit, according to unreleased government data seen by The Washington Post.
“One government official said about half of the children in custody — 1,000 — have been with the Border Patrol for longer than 72 hours, and another official said that more than 250 children 12 or younger have been in custody for an average of six days,” The Post reported.
According to federal law, unaccompanied minors must be transferred from short-term processing stations to more suitable accommodation run by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours unless there are “exceptional circumstances.” After that period, the current law stated HHS has custody over unaccompanied minors and must provide for their care.
“I don’t have any beds, because we’re meant to be short-term processing — not even holding,” a Border Patrol officer told The Post of facilities in Rio Grande Valley in Texas, one of the busiest entry points for migrants. “I have stools and benches, but I have no beds. . . . Our facilities are not built for long-term holding, and they’re certainly not built to house children for very long at all.”
Border Patrol officers told The Post that the immigration system is so overwhelmed by illegal crossings that the usual processes meant to transfer children to HHS custody have become clogged, leading to a backlog of children awaiting transfer.
A spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which usually oversees the transfer of unaccompanied minors to HHS, told The Post the Department of Homeland Security is facing “numerous operational challenges.” HHS has approximately 13,200 unaccompanied children in its facilities as of May 19, according to The Post.
The government’s immigration practices have faced renewed criticism after six migrant children died after crossing into the US. Experts and advocates have pointed to Border Patrol processing facilities that are inhospitable for long-term care, and have inedible food, undrinkable water, and are unsuitable for children.
This month, the US Customs and Border Protection revealed that 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died in a Border Patrol station in the Rio Grande Valley, six days after he crossed the US-Mexico border — double the length of time stipulated by law.
The Trump administration has shifted much of the blame onto migrants themselves, citing the “unprecedented number” of migrant families and children entering into the US, and urging migrant parents not to take their children on the often long and dangerous journey to the US.
According to new data released by Customs and Border Protection, the number of border apprehensions is rising to levels not seen in over a decade, showing that 109,144 people were taken into custody last month, with nearly 9,000 of them unaccompanied children.