Scramble for Beds as Number of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Custody Soars to 15,500

Scramble for Beds as Number of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Custody Soars to 15,500

Originally Published in Slate

Daniel Politi - March 21, 2021

A migrant child plays near a tent at a migrants camp where asylum seekers wait for US authorities to allow them to start their migration process outside El Chaparral crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on March 17, 2021.
A migrant child plays near a tent at a migrants camp where asylum seekers wait for US authorities to allow them to start their migration process outside El Chaparral crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on March 17, 2021. GUILLERMO ARIAS/Getty Images

The Biden administration is struggling to find appropriate places to house unaccompanied migrant children as the surge in arrivals at the border continues. As of Saturday, the U.S. government was housing some 15,500 unaccompanied minors, reports CBS News. Around one-third of them, or some 5,049 teenagers and kids, are in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That means unaccompanied minors make up more than half of the total of 9,830 immigrants of all ages who are in the custody of the border patrol, according to NBC News.

The numbers of people in the custody of the border patrol is increasing rapidly. On Thursday, there were 4,615 unaccompanied children in custody out of a total of 7,970. Unaccompanied minors are spending an average of 136 hours in the custody of the Customs and Border Protection, almost double the 72-hour limit set out by law. And as of Thursday, more than 500 migrant children had been in custody for more than 10 days.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirms to CBS News that it is housing almost 10,500 unaccompanied children in emergency housing facilities and shelters. And everyone expects the numbers to keep increasing. Over the past 21 days, officials have come across more than 500 unaccompanied minors per day meaning that the numbers for March are expected to be far higher than February, when more than 9,400 unaccompanied minors entered U.S. border custody.

The Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of housing most unaccompanied minors until they can be placed with family members or other sponsors. On Saturday, the agency said it would open a new temporary overflow facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Pecos, Texas. The facility will house around 500 children initially but it could expand to 2,000. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HHS is aggressively working with our interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are safe and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible,” HHS said in a statement.

As it scrambles to figure out where to place all the migrants that are flowing into the country, the Biden administration has sealed an $86 million contract for hotel rooms near border ares in Arizona and Texas to house some 1,200 migrant family members, reports Axios. The six-month contract sealed through a Texas-based nonprofit, Endeavors, could be expanded. The contract illustrates how immigration officials aren’t able to process the families that are arriving quickly enough.

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