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U.S. Border Patrol agents conduct intake of illegal border crossers at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.
US Customs and Border Patrol/Flickr

Detention of Migrant Children Spikes 516% in US

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The long-term detention of unaccompanied minors increases the likelihood of long-term trauma, especially in facilities that have extensive records of documented abuse. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

The Trump administration was forced to rescind its policy to separate migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border earlier this year, but the detention of unaccompanied minors continues at a staggering rate, according to the New York Times.

In May 2017, there were 2,400 unaccompanied minors being held in detention facilities and right now, there are a reported 12,800 children in detention — a rise of 516%.

The increase has little to do with how many migrant children are crossing the US-Mexico border, according to the Times.

Instead, it’s being driven by changes to the country’s immigration control policies. In the past, unaccompanied minors were generally detained for a brief period and then released to a foster family that was usually related in some way to the child. In doing so, the government wasn’t losing record of the child; it was simply ensuring that the child wasn’t suffering unduly.

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Now, the Trump administration has mandated that any foster family has to submit their fingerprints to the federal government before a child can be released, and the time to process foster family requests has become backlogged by months.

As a result, detention facilities are currently at 90% capacity, compared to 30% at the same time last year, and could be fully overwhelmed in the months ahead if an influx of migration occurs, according to experts who spoke with the Times.

“The closer they get to 100%, the less ability they will have to address anything unforeseen,” Mark Greenberg, who supervised migrant children for the Health and Human Services Department under President Barack Obama, told the Times. “Even if there’s not a sudden influx, they will be running out of capacity soon unless something changes.”

And as child welfare experts argue, long-term detention can cause deep-seated trauma, especially for unaccompanied minors who are away from their families in a foreign country. This is even more likely in migrant detention facilities that have histories of enabling abusive behavior toward children.

Read More: The US Is Still Holding 500 Separated Migrant Children in Custody

The ACLU released a report documenting the various abuses that unaccompanied minors face in US detention facilities, including being sexually assaulted, denied medical care, and run over by vehicles.

“The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government’s complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney, in a statement. “The abuse that takes place by government officials is reprehensible and un-American.”

Reports in recent months allege that detention facility agents deceptively drug children with psychotropic medication against their will, handcuff and tie them to chairs, beat them, and discriminate against them for being Latino.  

“Being in congregate care for an extended period of time is not a good thing. It increases the likelihood of things going wrong,” Greenberg said.

Read More: Migrant Children Could Be Detained Indefinitely Under Trump Administration's New Proposal

These abuses also become more common in contracted facilities outside of the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Trump administration has greatly expanded the use of private facilities and is planning to triple the size of a temporary “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas.

These facilities are also expensive to operate. To house one child at the facility in Tornillo costs $750 per day, which is $273,750 per year.

“You are flying in the face of child welfare, and we’re doing it by design,” Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut told the Times. “You drive up the cost and you prolong the trauma on these children.”

The Trump administration shows no signs of slowing its detention of children, but advocates around the country are fighting to end this human rights violation.