Unaccompanied migrant children crossing the US border hit record highs in March

The U.S. government took in nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border in March, authorities said Thursday, the largest monthly number ever recorded and a major test for President Joe Biden as he reverses many of his predecessor’s harsh immigration tactics.

A complex mix of factors in the United States and Central America controlled the increase. This has coincided with the Biden administration’s decision to exempt unaccompanied children from pandemic – related powers in order to immediately expel most of them from the country without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum. Children are instead released to “sponsors” in the United States, usually parents or close relatives, while continuing to pursue their goals in heavily backward immigration courts.

Authorities encountered 18,890 unaccompanied children in March, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, well above previous highs of 11,475 in May 2019 and 10,620 in June 2014 reported by the Border Patrol, which began publishing numbers in 2009. Prior to that, Mexican adults did the most crossing the border.

March count was about twice as many as 9,457 unaccompanied children encountered by CBP in February and more than five times the number of 3221 in March 2020.

The huge increase in children traveling alone – some as young as three – and families have severely strained borderline facilities, which are not allowed to hold people for more than three days but often do. It has left the government to find space and hire staff to take care of children in the long run until they can be placed with sponsors.

For many, a hurricane that hit Central America in November added urgent endemic poverty and violence that has led people to flee for decades. Changes in US policy under Biden have also guided their decisions, whether real or reputable.

Hermelindo Ak, a Guatemalan corn grower who barely does enough to feed his family, was deported to Mexico from the Texas Rio Grande Valley with his 17-year-old son. Ak decided to send his son alone for a second attempt after learning unaccompanied children can stay in the United States. Alas, 40, said he would return to his family in Guatemala after selling his house to pay smugglers. The plan was for his eldest son to live with relatives in the United States

“I did not want to leave him alone,” Ak said last week in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. “Necessity compels us.”

In the midst of the growing number, more than 4,000 people at a CBP facility are trapped in a space designed for 250 at a tent complex in Donna, Texas. They are inches apart on carpets on the floor with foil blankets.

CBP must transfer unaccompanied children within 72 hours to the US Department of Health and Human Services, whose facilities are more suitable for long-term care while measures are taken to free them. More than 2,000 children were held longer than that in the Donna facility one day last week, with 39 there for at least 15 days.

HHS opened its first temporary facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on February 22, and has since reached a number of agreements to occupy major arenas near the border, including convention centers in Dallas and San Diego, a stadium in San Antonio, Texas and Fort Bliss Army Base. in El Paso, Texas. The department has also paid for child flights and sponsors to limit time in state custody.

In total, the border patrol had 168,195 encounters with migrants at the southern border in March, the busiest month since March 2001, when it counted 170,580 arrests. The figures are not entirely comparable, as more than half of last month’s meetings resulted in expulsions under pandemic-related authority set up by former President Donald Trump and held by Biden.

People who are deported under the Public Health Act are much more likely to try again because they do not have any legal consequences.

Unlike deportations, people arrested under immigration laws can be subjected to imprisonment, prosecution for repeated crimes and a ban on entering the country legally through marriage or otherwise. The Biden administrator’s officials said that 28% of the deportations in March were people who had been deported earlier, compared to a 7% pre-pandemic recurrence period for the twelve-month period that ended in September 2019.

CBP had 52,904 meetings with people who arrived as families, of which only one in three was deported and the rest were allowed to stay in the United States to seek asylum.

Mexico’s refusal to accept Central American families with children under the age of 6 due to a new law against the detention of migrant families has limited the effectiveness of deportations, administration officials said. Mexico is particularly reluctant to accept families with young children in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

On average, hundreds of migrants go to bus stations in Texas border towns such as McAllen and Brownsville on their way to their final destinations in the United States. To save time, the Border Patrol began releasing migrating families – about 9,600 people as of Tuesday, according to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar – without notice to go to court, instead urging them to report to a 60-day U.S. Immigration and Customs Office. .

The number grew sharply during Trump’s last years in office but accelerated further during Biden, who quickly ended many of his predecessors’ policies, including one that made asylum seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings in the United States