Thousands of migrant kids stuck in U.S. border patrol custody -again

By Mica Rosenberg and Go Nakamura

ROMA, Texas (Reuters) – The number of migrant children in Border Patrol facilities has been steadily rising, an analysis of U.S. government data shows, as record numbers crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in July, renewing a politically sensitive issue for President Joe Biden.

On Aug. 1 there were more than 2,200 unaccompanied children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, more than double the number just a month earlier, according to daily statistics provided by the government since March and compiled by Reuters.

A CBP spokesperson said that number includes Mexican children who are quickly returned to their home country, as well as Central American children who are transferred to U.S. federal shelters.

The average time unaccompanied children are spending in CBP custody is around 60 hours, according to one source familiar with the matter, which is just within the limits set by a long-standing court settlement.

The recent rise is alarming migrant advocates, who say the facilities are not appropriate for young children, even though levels are still below those seen in mid-March when CBP held more than 5,700 unaccompanied kids at border stations.

“Everyone is worrying about the numbers and how it is going to be for the kids moving through the system,” said Jennifer Podkul, from the nonprofit Kids in Need of Defense, which provides legal representation for migrant children.

Record numbers of unaccompanied children, more than 19,000, were likely encountered by border patrol agents in July, said David Shahoulian, a top U.S. Department of Homeland Security official, in a court declaration filed on Monday.

At the same time, overall apprehensions, including of families and single adults, are on pace to be the highest ever recorded this fiscal year, he said. The numbers include individuals who may cross multiple times.

The situation is straining resources, Shahoulian said, with Border Patrol facilities filled way over capacity limits set during COVID across the southwest border and more than 10,000 people in custody in the Rio Grande Valley alone as of Aug. 1.

Children traveling on their own are supposed to be transferred from CBP custody to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shelters, where they wait to be released to U.S. sponsors, often parents or other family members.

There are now more than 14,400 kids in HHS shelters, the daily government data showed.

CBP said its ability to transfer unaccompanied children out of its facilities depends on HHS capacity. HHS said in a statement that the agency is “not currently experiencing any delays that prevent prompt identification of an appropriate placement within our shelter network.”

Earlier this year the Biden administration came under intense pressure from advocacy groups and fellow Democrats to transfer children more quickly from overcrowded CBP border facilities not designed to hold them. The government set up more emergency shelters and the number of kids in CBP border facilities quickly dropped.

But some large convention centers converted to house children have shut down since then and there are now only four emergency shelters left, along with an existing network of state-licensed facilities and foster homes.

Several whistleblowers raised complaints about one of the emergency sites still open at Fort Bliss in Texas, saying “organizational chaos” and bad management by private contractors resulted in conditions that endanger children. HHS’ Office of Inspector General said on its website on Monday that it will investigate “case management challenges at Fort Bliss that may have impeded the safe and timely release of children to sponsors.”


Over the course of two nights last week, hundreds of mostly Central American migrants, including families with young children and kids traveling unaccompanied, arrived on rafts after crossing the Rio Grande river near Roma, Texas, according to a Reuters witness.

They turned themselves over to border agents, who were handing out masks, forming long lines for processing. Most carried no belongings and some were from countries like Haiti, which is experiencing renewed political turmoil.

Under a Trump-era public health policy that Biden has kept in place, many face immediate expulsion. However, Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the policy. Families are still subject to the policy – on paper, but in practice most are allowed in to pursue immigration cases in U.S. courts.

Images posted on Twitter over the weekend showed hundreds of people crowding under a bridge in Mission, Texas, where agents were holding migrants outside. With concerns rising about the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the accumulation of migrants in custody is worrying local officials.

The Texas Border Coalition, which groups mayors, county judges and economic development commissions along the Texas-Mexico border, said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that absent more immediate attention, “there is growing potential for the situation to spin out of control.”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Go Nakamura in Roma, Texas, and Ted Hesson and Richard Cowan in Washington, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Ross Colvin and Dan Grebler)

Analysis: Facing critics, Biden boxed in with few options for influx of migrant children

By Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is racing to deal with an increasing number of migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it has limited options and “none are great,” one U.S. official said.

The influx, which comes as Biden relaxes some of former President Donald Trump’s more restrictive immigration policies, has left the Democratic president facing criticism not only from opposition Republicans but also members of his own party, who say some children are being held in custody for too long.

Biden’s administration, however, faces legal, space and cost constraints as it tries first to house and then speed the release of thousands of children coming over the border.

Under U.S. law, federal health officials are required to provide housing and care for unaccompanied migrant children until they can be placed with a parent or other sponsor, but they have limited bed space in state-licensed facilities to do so.

If the number of children arriving without a parent or legal guardian continues to rise, officials will have to expand emergency housing, start a time-consuming process to open more licensed facilities or release children faster.

“We will have to make big and small changes,” the U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal operations, told Reuters. “(We are) assessing options now because none are great.”

Migrant children are supposed to be transferred out of Border Patrol custody within 72 hours. But when shelter space is limited, they can get stuck in border detention centers for longer periods – as is happening now, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In 2019, migrant advocates raised concerns about hundreds of children – including toddlers – being detained without adequate food, clean clothes and diapers, toothbrushes or showers.

Robert Carey, who directed the refugee office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under former President Barack Obama, said changing the policies around housing children will not happen quickly “even if they are putting a tremendous amount of effort into it.”

“It’s a Herculean task,” he said.


Biden is already running up against some of the same issues that vexed previous administrations.

One example of complications facing the president – U.S. health officials on Friday lifted coronavirus-related restrictions that cut federal shelter capacity by 40% and maxed-out bed space.

The relaxation of the restrictions boosted capacity to about 13,000, with 8,100 children in government custody as of Monday. But beds are filling up quickly.

While officials acknowledge that allowing more children into the shelters will raise the risk of more COVID-19 cases, the administration says it has little choice, since it takes so long to open new facilities.

Long-term shelters need state licensing that complies with local child welfare laws, a process that could take up to a year and can be hamstrung by local opposition from both critics of detention centers and anti-immigration groups.

Emergency influx shelters can be erected more quickly on federal properties, and the Biden administration is surveying agencies to see what options might be available, including military bases.

Finding adequate federally controlled land or buildings that can be made available and converted for children in a short amount of time is a challenge, said Mark Greenberg, a former top official at HHS, which oversees the shelters.

Greenberg worked at the department during a 2014 surge in unaccompanied minors.

“We spent a lot of time to trying to identify other federal properties that might be available in the future,” he said of the efforts. “Most agencies did not have property to offer.”

The best option would be smaller-scale shelters or foster homes, but finding and opening those sorts of spaces are longer-term projects, according to Leah Chavla, a senior policy adviser with the New York City-based Women’s Refugee Commission.


One way to lessen the need for housing is to speed up the release of children to U.S. sponsors – something Biden has asked about in meetings, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

But move too fast and predators may try to take advantage of the system, according to former HHS officials. In 2013 and 2014, for example, some Guatemalan teenagers were released and then forced to work on an egg farm in Ohio.

“We need to take the time to vet the individuals who these kids are being connected with,” Psaki told MSNBC on Tuesday. “We’re trying to figure out how to expedite this process.”

Some measures are already being put in place, but the moves are unlikely to have a significant effect on the housing crunch if the number of children arriving keeps rising.

U.S. officials are now sending unaccompanied children to shelters in the interior of the country instead of automatically quarantining them for 14 days near the border, according to a person familiar with the decision. They are also streamlining background checks of sponsors by moving to a new database system.

Cecilia Munoz, a top White House official dealing with immigration issues under Obama, said handling unaccompanied minors at the border will be one of the biggest challenges for the Biden administration, which she said inherited problems caused by Trump’s border policies.

“I’ve lived through my own version of this,” Munoz said. If “you have hundreds of kids in Border Patrol lock ups, and they can’t stay there, you have few options and your options are more expensive.”

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

Britain to take in unaccompanied migrant children from camps

A young migrant pulls a trolley in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Calais, France,

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain will honor a commitment to take in migrant children from the “Jungle” camp in the French port city of Calais, interior minister Amber Rudd said on Monday, urging France to help her speed the process.

Rudd said progress had been made at a meeting with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to help resettle unaccompanied children in the camp to Britain or to a safe children’s center while any necessary paperwork is processed.

Britain has been accused of dragging its heels on helping move the around 1,000 unaccompanied children in the Jungle, an overcrowded camp which is home to nearly 10,000 people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Paris has said the camp will be demolished soon.

“The UK government has made clear its commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act and ensure that those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin regulation,” Rudd told parliament.

Under EU rules known as the Dublin regulation, asylum seekers must make an initial claim in the first country they reach, but can have their application examined in another if, for example, they have relatives living there.

“We have made good progress today but there is much more work to do,” Rudd said, referring to the meeting with Cazeneuve where the two sides agreed to speed up the process of moving the children before the camp is demolished.

Rudd said more than 80 unaccompanied children have been accepted for transfer under the Dublin regulation since the beginning of this year and urged France to come up with a list of those who are also eligible to move under EU rules.

Earlier, Cazeneuve said he would press the case for Britain to honor its commitment to take in the children after the Red Cross charity said many had been held back by bureaucracy.

“Of the estimated 1,000 unaccompanied children who are currently living in the Calais Jungle, 178 have been identified as having family ties to the UK. This gives them the right to claim asylum in the same country,” the Red Cross said.

Calais is one of several places in western Europe faced with huge build-ups of migrants.

More than 11,000 were rescued in just 48 hours last week off the coast of Libya as they sought to cross the sea to Europe.

(Reporting by Brian Love and Michel Rose in Paris, Elizabeth Piper in London,; Editing by Stephen Addison)