The debate over immigration will soon hit a fever pitch as the highest number of migrants arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border in 20 years. You may know of a growing demographic among the migrant population: unaccompanied minors.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just announced that the southern border is closed. Families and single adults will be turned away, but unaccompanied children will be held and eventually allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is building make-shift shelters to house all of these children while they wait to be transferred out. The U.S. government reportedly is holding over 15,500 unaccompanied migrant minors.
Border holding conditions
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations were built to hold adults in prison-like facilities for just a few days before sending them back to their home country. Since the surges in border crossings in 2014 and 2019, the border stations became dangerously overcrowded. With another surge underway, children are spending as long as 10 days in these facilities, even though unaccompanied children are required by law to be processed and sent to HHS shelters within 72 hours.
In recently released images of these facilities, you can see children sleeping on mats under foils blankets. It’s hard not to criticize these less than sanitary conditions with a deadly pandemic in our midst. That may be why officials have been hesitant to let anyone into these facilities. From media outlets to non-profit lawyers, no one has been allowed in to see the state of many of the makeshift living quarters that migrant children are staying in.
Why are so many children coming?
President Trump instituted a policy that forced asylum seekers from Central and South America to stay in Mexico for their immigration hearings. During that period of time, many people were forced to stay in Mexico, awaiting some change or opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S. When President Biden took office, he repealed several of Trump’s policies, including this “remain-in-Mexico” policy. Now, those families waiting in Mexico are lining up to have at least their children enter the country. Most minors who illegally enter the U.S. on their own are usually granted asylum after they are sent to foster care or immediate family already in the country.
According to immigration experts, some children make the potentially dangerous trip to the U.S.-Mexico border alone or with a smuggler. In some past cases, children are separated from their family members at the border by CBP. But some people are concerned that parents make the trek to the border with their children and then separate, knowing that the child will make it. The trip is dangerous, but it’s a risk that many are willing to take for the opportunity to prosper in the United States.