The Slatest

Report: Hundreds of Migrant Children Detained at Border Patrol Facilities Beyond Legal Time Limits

A child holds an adult's hand while a Border Patrol agent stands in the background.
Border Patrol agents take Central American migrants into custody on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images

Unreleased government data indicates that hundreds of the nearly 2,000 children being held in border facilities have been detained longer than the legally allowed 72 hours after apprehension, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

According to the Post, some of the migrant children—most of whom arrived at the border unaccompanied by parents or guardians—have spent more than a week at Border Patrol stations and processing centers. But legally, Border Patrol has to transfer the minors to Department of Health and Human Services shelters more appropriate for housing them within 72 hours of taking them into custody. One government official told the Post that nearly half of the children have been held by Border Patrol for longer than the limit, and another said that a couple hundred—many younger than 12 years old—were held for about a week.

The officials told the Post that it takes an average of four days to process and place unaccompanied minors in shelters. Because processing centers and stations are not built for housing, many of the migrant children who arrive at the border—there have been many thousands in the past year—end up sleeping on mats on the floor. The Post described the McAllen Border Patrol station, which was holding 775 people as of Tuesday, this way:

[A]dults and their toddler children were packed into concrete holding cells, many of them sleeping head-to-foot on the floor and along the wall-length benches, as they awaited processing… [S]everal boys who appeared to be of elementary school age slept curled up on concrete benches, a few clutching Mylar emergency blankets. Outside in the parking lot, a chain-link fence enclosure held dozens of women and children, many of them eschewing the air-conditioned tents to lie on the pavement.

Since September, six migrant children have died in U.S. custody. Many minors held at border facilities contract infectious diseases because of the close proximity to so many other children. In addition to the nearly 2,000 in Border Patrol custody, HHS has said it is housing about 13,200 minors, as of mid-May. Border Patrol has passed on more than 40,000 unaccompanied children to HHS care this year, and migrants continue to arrive faster than Border Patrol can process them under its current practices.