More than 4,000 unaccompanied migrant children are in Border Patrol custody, CNN has learned, marking yet another increase in the number of children held up in border facilities until officials can accommodate them in shelters that are suited for them.
The accelerated pace at which children are arriving is adding greater stress to the system, leaving them in jail-like facilities for extended periods of time. As of Sunday, there were around 4,200 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody.
After children are taken into Border Patrol custody, they’re turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with the care of migrant children. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, the department has been strained trying to accommodate the influx since shelters had until recently been operating under limited capacity.
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Over the weekend, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with receiving, sheltering and transferring children.
“I am grateful for the exceptional talent and responsiveness of the FEMA team,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud of the agents of the Border Patrol, who have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care. Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child.”
A Homeland Security official previously told CNN that the spike in children arriving at the border has drawn a lot of attention and meetings are ongoing “at the highest levels.”
“It’s going to be very difficult to stop this,” the official said.
The administration’s race to house migrant children marks a critical early test for President Joe Biden who entered office vowing to reverse what he cast as cruel policies put in place by former President Donald Trump that made it difficult for people fleeing poverty and violence to come to the US.
Now, Biden is working to strike a balance between promoting a more humane approach to immigration while still sending the message to would-be migrants not to come.
At the peak of the 2019 border crisis – when there were overcrowded facilities and children sleeping on the ground – there were around 2,600 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody, a former CBP official previously told CNN.
CNN’s Geneva Sands and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.