Even after the release of hundreds of children separated from their parents under President Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy, there are still more migrant children in detention than at any other time in our country’s history, according to the New York Times. There are five times as many children in detention as there were last summer, bringing the total number to 12,800.
The data collected by the times shows that the high numbers are not the result of greater numbers of children entering the U.S., but of fewer children being released to live with relatives or sponsors. Another recent investigation into a youth migrant shelter in Chicago by ProPublica Illinois found that some potential sponsors are hesitant to work with the government now that there is a rule requiring every member of a household to be fingerprinted, possibly endangering undocumented people living in those households. The report showed that the longer children are kept in shelters, the worse their psychological symptoms become, sometimes triggering suicidal thoughts and escape attempts.
Many of the children in custody are teenagers escaping violence in Central America who crossed the border on their own. According to the data, which members of Congress shared with the Times, it seems that Trump’s efforts to use his zero-tolerance policy to discourage migrants from crossing the border with their children isn’t working. The same number of children are crossing the border as in previous years.
The backup in finding sponsors for children has caused the shelters to strain. They are now at 90 percent capacity, compared to 30 percent last year. This could create dangerous situations for children in their care.
“The closer they get to 100 percent, the less ability they will have to address anything unforeseen,” Mark Greenberg, who led the Health and Human Services Department’s care of migrant children under Obama, told the Times. “Even if there’s not a sudden influx [of children], they will be running out of capacity soon unless something changes.”
This week, the Trump administration said it will triple the size of a tent city in Tornillo, TX to accommodate 3,800 youth migrants this year. Camps like these usually have rougher conditions than traditional shelters. They’re also more expensive. Tent camps cost the government $750 per child per day, three times the amount that a traditional shelter costs.
“You are flying in the face of child welfare, and we’re doing it by design,” House Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut told the Times. “You drive up the cost and you prolong the trauma on these children.”
“The number of unaccompanied alien children apprehended are a symptom of the larger issue of a broken immigration system,” Evelyn Stauffer, the press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “That is why HHS joins the president in calling on Congress to address this broken system and the pull factors that have led to increasing numbers at the U.S. border.”