(CNN) — The United States Border Patrol has detained more than 11,000 unaccompanied migrant minors between February 28 and March 20, according to preliminary government data reviewed by CNN. The figure already dwarfs the number of minors detained in the entire month of February.
In recent weeks, the number of encounters of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has continued to rise, overwhelming government resources that had already been under pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout February, the Border Patrol detained nearly 9,300 unaccompanied minors at the southern border of the United States, up from 5,600 in January.
The number of arrests would also have been surpassed, according to preliminary data, the maximum registered since May 2019, when around 11,400 unaccompanied minors were arrested at the border between the United States and Mexico.
The latest figures indicate the challenge facing the Biden administration as migrants continue to approach the US-Mexico border, despite officials having warned them not to come and despite continued use of an era policy. implemented during the pandemic, which allows border officials to turn away single adults and some families.
While the growing number of best is a pressing challenge for the administration, children crossing the border alone still make up the minority of encounters, preliminary data reveals. Between February 28 and March 20, the Border Patrol detained more than 60,000 single adults and more than 32,000 families, according to the data.
The “challenge” of migrants on the southern US border
The Biden administration has refused to characterize the flow of migrants as a “crisis,” maintaining instead that it is a challenge.
Over the weekend, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the government’s work on the southern border and blamed the Trump administration for dismantling the immigration system, saying his department now has to rebuild it “from scratch.”
President Joe Biden told reporters outside the White House on Sunday that he would visit the border “at some point” and added: “I know what is going on in those facilities” when asked if he wanted to see the situation first. hand.
Photos posted Monday by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas provided a rare glimpse of crowded conditions at border facilities. The footage revealed dozens of children and adults at a temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas, that was established earlier this year to help process migrants.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden does not believe conditions at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility are acceptable and that the administration is working to get the children out. of those facilities as soon as possible.
“They’re not for kids and that’s why he wants to open more shelters and increase and speed up processing at the border, and that’s a topic that he concentrates on every day,” Psaki told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview on The Lead, Monday.
Government officials, meanwhile, have been racing to find a suitable shelter for unaccompanied minors, turning to convention centers and emergency admission sites to remove them from Border Patrol facilities, which are meant to process adults, not Take care of children.
The San Diego Convention Center, best known for hosting the annual Comic-Con International convention, will soon be used to house unaccompanied migrant minors, the city and county announced Monday. The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) is already using part of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas to house about 1,500 children, although the space can accommodate 2,300 children.
HHS also announced the opening of a new influx facility in Texas to accommodate approximately 500 children, with the potential to expand to 2,000. There are about 10,500 children in the custody of the Department.
As of Monday, 81 members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supported HHS in protecting unaccompanied children, according to the agency. FEMA staff are present in Dallas, Midland, Texas; Donna, Texas; San Diego and Washington.
Children detained at the border
Federal law requires that migrant children be released to HHS, which is responsible for their care, within 72 hours of arrest. But amid limitations stemming from the pandemic and the accelerating pace of arrivals, the administration has struggled to catch up with the arrival of minors, leading to thousands of people being detained at border facilities.
The average time in custody for unaccompanied children continues to hover around 130 hours, exceeding the legal limit of 72 hours, although the number of children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection dropped slightly to just under 4,900, documents show. reviewed by CNN.
To expedite the process for minors to be reunited with a relative in the U.S., the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency under HHS, published a field guide that allows for the expedited release of some unaccompanied children under custody, according to a memo obtained by CNN.
Minors who meet certain requirements will be released to their parents or legal guardians under this revised policy, even if it is determined that the child is not particularly vulnerable, if there are no “red flags” present in the case, such as abuse or neglect.
Earlier this month, the administration also rescinded a Trump-era deal that it said discouraged sponsors of unaccompanied migrant minors, such as parents or family members, from coming forward out of fear that their information would be shared with law enforcement agencies. immigration.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism