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The Trump Administration Is Detaining a Record Number of Immigrant Children

Immigrant families seeking asylum wait in line at a bus station after being processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (Eric Gay / AP).

Currently, 12,800 migrant minors are in custody at federally contracted shelters. It’s the highest number ever recorded, according to a New York Times report. That’s five times more children than in May 2017, when there were 2,400 in custody.

The numbers have continued to increase, the Times reports, despite a July federal court order that required shelters to release hundreds of children separated from their families. The rise, the Times continues, is “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 data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services suggests.”

Members of Congress shared the data with the Times. Most of the migrants involved crossed the border without their families, and a large number, now spread out among 100 shelters, are teens from Central America:

… [D]espite 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, said those familiar with the shelter system, is that red tape and fear brought on by stricter immigration enforcement have discouraged relatives and family friends from coming forward to sponsor children.

The fear is leading to overcrowding. “The closer they get to 100 percent [capacity], the less ability they will have to address anything unforeseen,” says Mark Greenberg, who in the Obama administration oversaw the care of migrant children at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Instead of releasing more children, the Trump administration is addressing the capacity problem by tripling the size of a temporary tent city in Tornillo, Texas, so it can house 3,800 children through the end of 2018. According to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., these facilities are more expensive than traditional shelters, costing “about $750 per child per day, or three times the amount of a typical shelter.” DeLauro told the Times, “[These conditions] are flying in the face of child welfare, and we’re doing it by design. … You drive up the cost and you prolong the trauma on these children.”

The Trump administration explained its actions by saying it was overwhelmed with requests for asylum. Evelyn Stauffer, press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement, “The number of unaccompanied alien children apprehended are a symptom of the larger issue of a broken immigration system. … That is why HHS joins the president in calling on Congress to address this broken system and the pull factors that have led to increasing numbers at the U.S. border.”

There was no mention of a longer-term plan for housing these children, or for finding them homes outside federal shelters.

Read the entire Times report here.

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