Posted on December 10, 2020

Thousands of Unaccompanied Minors Arrive at US-Mexico Border

Rick Jervis, USA Today, December 8, 2020

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has nearly doubled in recent weeks, and smugglers are using riskier tactics to get them across, a top U.S. Border Patrol official says. 

Agents are apprehending an average of 153 young migrants a day at the border since October, up from about 80 a day earlier this year, Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz, Border Patrol’s second in command, said in an interview with USA TODAY. 

In all, Border Patrol agents apprehended 4,764 unaccompanied minors in October, up from 741 in April – a more than 540% jump, according to court filings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol. In a six-day span in November, border agents apprehended 997 unaccompanied minors – more than in the entire month of April. 

Most worrying are the large numbers of those considered “tender age” – 12 and younger and sometimes as little as 7 months old, he said. {snip}


Unlike similar surges in young migrants last year and in 2014, when the minors largely turned themselves in to border agents after crossing into the U.S., smugglers this year are trying to sneak the minors furtherinto the U.S. through remote areas of South Texas, floating them across the Rio Grande in rickety rafts and hiding them in stash houses, he said.

In recent months, agents have uncovered dozens of immigrants crammed into horse trailers or buried in hidden floors of trailer trucks. Often, children are squeezed in among them, Ortiz said. {snip}


Influxes of unaccompanied minors have often presented challenges to federal authorities who, under U.S. law, need to house and process them separately from adults. But with the specter of the coronavirus pandemic hanging over the U.S.-Mexico border, capacity for these children is dwindling, just as their numbers are rising.

Though the agency usually has 13,764 beds for minors, only 7,971 are available because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency charged with caring for them. Under a 2008 anti-trafficking law, border agents are supposed to turn minors over to the resettlement agency within 72 hours, where they’re held temporarily and released to relatives or guardians in the U.S. 

Up until last month, federal agents were quickly expelling the young people under the Trump administration’s controversial Title 42 policy, which allowed agents to return the minors to their countries of origin over concerns of spreading the coronavirus to border agents or other detainees.

A federal judge in November ordered the government to cease the quick expulsions, siding with legal advocates who said the children were being stripped of their legal protection under U.S. law. Federal lawyers have appealed the ruling. The government has expelled more than 200,000 migrants under the policy since March, including 8,800 unaccompanied minors, according to The Associated Press.