Knowledge reveals rising backlog of unaccompanied migrant kids in Border Patrol custody

WASHINGTON – U.S. Customs and Border Protection held 1,763 unaccompanied migrant children in custody Tuesday, of whom 625 had been detained for more than 72 hours. This is the legal limit for incarceration of children in CBP’s border processing operations, as NBC’s internal CBP data shows.

The data also showed that 95 of the 625 who waited more than 72 hours to be transferred to health and human services custody were younger than 13 years.

The influx of unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 into border areas is partly due to the Biden administration reversing a Trump-era policy that expelled unaccompanied migrant children along with all other migrants under the provisions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the Human Trafficking Victims Re-Approval Act, migrant children who cross the border without a legal parent or legal guardian should be brought into the care of HHS within 72 hours. CBP facilities are not designed to accommodate children for extended periods of time, while in HHS facilities they have access to school, outdoor areas, and child care professionals. Case workers for HHS can help match children with relatives or godparents who can look after them while they go through their immigration litigation in the United States

In late May 2019, when a flood of unaccompanied migrant children at the border resulted in children sleeping on concrete while waiting in the custody of border guards, more than 1,400 children had waited more than 72 hours to be transferred to HHS facilities.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the increase in unaccompanied migrant children at the White House on Tuesday, where he was told that this year’s increase could surpass the record of 76,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in 2019. When asked if there was a crisis, he told reporters. “We’ll be able to deal with it, God willing.”

Immigration and child welfare advocates have criticized the Biden government for opening temporary inflow facilities that are not licensed. However, these facilities are better than children waiting in border custody.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his agency was considering “bringing together” HHS workers at border patrol stations that can quickly match children with godparents without even bringing them into HHS custody.

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