Sunday, November 18, 2018

Despite family reunification efforts, the number of detained migrant children is still at an all-time high

Even though hundreds of children separated from their families have been released under court orders, the overall number of detained migrant children has exploded to the highest ever recorded.

Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.

The huge increases, which have placed the federal shelter system near capacity, are due not to an influx of children entering the country, but a reduction in the number being released to live with families and other sponsors. The new data was reported to members of Congress shows that despite the Trump administration’s efforts to discourage Central American migrants, roughly the same number of children are crossing the border as in years past.

The big difference is that red tape and fear brought on by stricter immigration enforcement have discouraged relatives and family friends from coming forward to sponsor children. Shelter capacities have hovered close to 90 percent since at least May, compared to about 30 percent a year ago.

Any new surge in border crossings, which could happen at any time, could quickly overwhelm the system, operators say. The administration appeared to move to address that on Tuesday, when it announced that it will triple the size of a temporary “tent city” in Tornillo, Tex., to house up to 3,800 children through the end of the year.

Immigrant advocates and members of Congress reacted to the news with distress, because conditions are comparatively harsh in such large overflow facilities, compared with traditional shelters. Historically, children categorized as “unaccompanied” have been placed with sponsors, such as parents already in the United States as soon as the sponsors can be vetted by federal authorities, but the new data shows that the placement process has slowed in part, to changes the Trump administration has made in how the process works.

NY TIMES