US Shelters Holding 15,000 Migrant Children Are 92 Percent Full
By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Recent news stories related to border security and immigration have mostly focused on the migrant caravan filled with thousands of people from Honduras and a few other Central American countries. The bulk of the caravan has already arrived just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, with thousands of migrants camped out in Tijuana waiting for their turn to request a silent. But what has largely been forgotten are the almost 15,000 migrant children who crossed the border some time ago and are still being held in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shelters across the United States.
According to NPR, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has indicated that the national network of more than 100 shelters is 92 percent full. This situation has been growing steadily worse over the past few years as more and more teenagers traveling alone from Central America arrive in the U.S. according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in November 2018, an average of 175 unaccompanied children crossed the southern border every day. Many are escaping horrible economic conditions and gang violence. Others are looking for work or want to go to school.
Processing Unaccompanied Minors
When minors arrive unaccompanied at the southwest border, they are taken into custody by CBP or the Border Patrol, processed, and by law can only be held for a short period of time. If they are eligible for asylum, DHS prefers to release a minor to a sponsor, who is usually a family member or family friend. If a sponsor cannot be found, DHS transfers the minor over to HHS, which then places the minor in a shelter until a sponsor can be found or they can be placed in a group or foster home.
This system has been rife with controversy for several years. During the huge “border surge” of 2014, thousands of unaccompanied minors were being held in substandard conditions for well beyond the legal limit for detention by DHS. then in April 2018 when the trumpet ministration enacted a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigration, some migrant children were forcibly separated from their parents, tagged as unaccompanied children despite the fact they crossed the border with adults, and were often placed in shelters far away from where their parents were being detained.
Making this situation worse is a December 10 report by Reuters stating that between early July and late November 2018, roughly 80 percent of potential sponsors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted background checks on were in the U.S. unlawfully. During this time period, immigration authorities arrested 170 people who came forward to claim migrant children in custody. According to Reuters, of those arrested, 61 were classified as criminal while the other 109 had only committed immigration violations. Immigration advocates say this crackdown is discouraging relatives from volunteering to take in children in these shelters.
This crisis has placed DHS in a sticky situation. On one hand, it wants to take all the steps to properly that’s all potential sponsors for these children. However, if DHS doesn’t speed up the process for releasing the children, the agency then potentially violates laws with regards to time limits on their detention and adds to the looming overcrowding problem in shelters.
On Nov. 28, 112 organizations wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and HHS Secretary Alex Azar urging them to reverse the policy of arresting family members wanting to claim children in shelters. “Your agencies have taken a process designed to protect children and made it into a tool that uses them to find and deport their families,” they wrote.