Originally Published in CNN
Priscilla Alvarez - March 3, 2021
The Customs and Border Protection documents dated Tuesday show a growing trend of unaccompanied children coming into US custody at levels beyond the Health and Human Services Department's ability to house them, given limited shelter capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On average, over the last 21 days the US Border Patrol, part of Customs and Border Protection, arrested around 340 children who crossed the US-Mexico border alone, according to preliminary data outlined in the document. The average time in Border Patrol facilities, which are not designed to hold children, was 77 hours, longer than the 72 permitted under US law
The strain on capacity is an indicator of the massive challenges facing the department.
In Yuma, Arizona, there were more than 600 people -- of all ages -- in custody in a space designed for 104, according to the data. And in the Rio Grande Valley, more than 2,000 people were in custody in a space for 715. The numbers can fluctuate daily.
"It is a stressful challenge. That's why, quite frankly, we're working as hard as we are, not only in addressing the urgency of the challenge but also in building the capacity to manage it," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the White House on Monday.
Growing number of arrests
Customs and Border Protection officials are the first to come in contact with children who cross the US border alone. After being taken into Border Patrol custody, unaccompanied children are turned over to HHS.
During the Trump administration, border officials turned away the vast majority of migrants, including children, returning border crossers to Mexico or their countries of origin, using a public health order related to the pandemic.
While the Biden administration has continued to rely on that policy
, it is no longer applying it to unaccompanied children and some families, resulting in more people in custody.
In January, more than 5,800 unaccompanied children and nearly 7,500 families were taken into custody by Customs and Border Protection at the US-Mexico border, according to the agency's most recent monthly data, up from December. The numbers are expected to increase.