The Slatest

Shelters for Child Migrants Near Capacity as Children Are Separated From Parents at the Border

A boy at the border wall.
A boy at the border wall between Ciudad Juárez in Mexico and Sunland Park in New Mexico on May 3.
Herika Martinez/Getty Images

Child shelters near the border are nearing capacity, a Health and Human Services spokesperson said Tuesday, as the number of migrant children held in custody without their parents has climbed dramatically in the past month.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the number of children held on their own has grown by 21 percent from the month before, an increase that is likely largely attributable to the new policy that prosecutes parents criminally and separates their children from them at the border in hopes of deterring them from attempting to enter the U.S.

According to the Post, there are now more 10,773 migrant children in U.S. custody, as of Tuesday—almost 2,000 more than the number in custody at the end of April, according to numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services. While it’s not known how much of that difference is attributable to the influx of children separated from their parents by the U.S. government versus an increase of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, it does appear that the new “zero tolerance” approach, implemented last month, played a major role.

Children separated from their parents under this policy are usually sent to HHS shelters, while their parents are sent off to federal jails to await prosecution. Those shelters are at 95 percent capacity, according to the Post.

To alleviate the problem, HHS plans to add new beds to the shelters. But it is also still considering housing children on military bases, an option that was first reported earlier in May and that was also used by the Obama administration during an surge in the numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border. Using military bases is considered a “last option,” according to the Post.

The children separated from their parents and held in these shelters are not connected to the recent story circulating on social media about 1,475 children that the U.S. government has lost track of since they arrived at the border. That number—mostly from unaccompanied children who are placed with relatives and other sponsors—has to do with the degree to which HHS monitors children no longer under their custody and the degree to which sponsors, many who are undocumented themselves, do not respond to calls.

The New York Times reported in April that the Department of Homeland Security had already separated roughly 700 children from their parents since October. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, between May 6 and 19, 658 children were separated from the 638 adults they traveled with, all of whom were referred for prosecution.