The number of migrant children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody has fallen sharply, according to the Biden administration, thanks to efforts to transfer control of unaccompanied minors from border detention facilities to temporary shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services — not because of a drop in the number of migrants.
At one point, CBP had custody of nearly 6,000 unaccompanied minor children who crossed the United States-Mexico border without parents or relatives. They were either captured or presented themselves to border patrol agents seeking asylum. Now, CNN reports, CBP has just 3,400 children in border detention facilities, with the rest having transferred to one of the dozens of temporary holding facilities across the country.
Overall, however, the United States government is still responsible for approximately 18,027 unaccompanied minors, many of whom have been in custody for far longer than the 72-hour limit set by immigration courts.
“The number of unaccompanied minors in US Customs and Border Protection custody, akin to jail-like conditions, has dropped 45%, according to the latest government data, amid an ongoing effort by the Biden administration to find suitable spaces to accommodate kids after facing scrutiny for overcrowded facilities,” CNN reported Tuesday. “As of Sunday, there were 3,130 children in the custody of CBP, an agency not intended to care for children for prolonged periods of time, marking a drop from the peak — 5,767 on March 28 — since the government started providing data, indicating progress in alleviating Border Patrol stations.”
The average time in CBP custody is now 122 hours. It is not clear whether children who fall into HHS custody must be released within a certain time limit. CNN noted that children who are transferred to HHS shelters typically remain in HHS custody until a parent or relative, living inside the United States, can be located.
Although the children are no longer in CBP custody — and, it seems, no longer subject to custody limitations — the ongoing child migrant crisis is, by no means, solved. HHS is still struggling to find beds for the approximately 20,000 or so unaccompanied migrants expected each month. As of last weekend, HHS opened temporary facilities in sports arenas and community centers and, more recently, offered incentives to foster families and government workers who welcome child migrants into their homes, even flying children cross-country in Immigration and Customs Enforcement planes to facilities in Michigan.
Conditions in HHS facilities are, reportedly, better than those in border detention units, where unaccompanied minors were pictured, last week, packed shoulder to shoulder in holding pens, but at least one HHS facility, a temporary detention center in Texas, is facing allegations of abuse and neglect.
HHS’s emergency housing program is also expensive. CNN estimates that the Biden administration is spending $62 million per week to house all of the child migrants.
“The daily cost per child is more than twice that of the department’s already established shelter program — at approximately $775 per day, compared to around $290 per day,” the outlet said. “HHS cited the need to develop facilities and hire staff over a short period of time among the reasons why temporary shelters are more costly.”
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