The Slatest

Number of Detained Migrant Children Reaches Record High

Donald Trump points while standing at a podium in the East Room of the White House
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A new report from the New York Times has found that, despite the Trump administration’s efforts under a court order to release hundreds of children who were separated from their families at the border, the number of migrant children being held in federal shelters has surged to a new record, straining the facilities nearly to capacity.

Those numbers, however, have more to do with a backlog of cases of children—primarily teenagers from Central America—who arrived on their own at the border and are awaiting a parent or sponsor. According to the Times, there were 12,800 children in custody by September. In May 2017, there were 2,400.

The data come from numbers collected by the Department of Health and Human Services and supplied to members of Congress. According to the Times, the actual number of migrant children arriving in the U.S. has not increased significantly. Instead, the Trump administration’s immigration policies have made it difficult to place children with sponsors, as potential sponsors, some of whom are undocumented themselves, are more commonly afraid to come forward.

In particular, according to the Times, a new June policy that requires potential sponsors to submit fingerprints to be shared with immigration authorities has caused a drop in monthly releases. The cases in which family members or other sponsors do come forward with fingerprints are still bogged down by the red tape and wait times involved in the vetting process. Federal officials argue the policy is meant to ensure the safety of children released from their care and prevent them from ending up with any smugglers or human traffickers.

The migrant children are kept in 100 shelters across the country, most of which are—and have been for months—very near capacity. The administration announced on Tuesday that it would triple the size of a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, in order to house 3,800 children through the rest of the year, and it has proposed new tent cities and military bases as possible ways to deal with any overflow. Tent cities place migrant children through more difficult living conditions in what is already a very challenging and often damaging ordeal.