The Number of Immigrant Children at Government Shelters Surge

According to federal health officials, nearly 11,000 migrant children are being kept in government custody without their parents. This number is a 22% increase since April.

As the Trump administration continues to ramp up prosecution of parents who cross the border with their children, a total of 10,852 migrant children are being held in shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Currently, these shelters are operating at 95% capacity. A spokesman with HHS’s Administration for Children and Families said that ORR has 575 open beds.

The 22% increase since April comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier this month that the administration would be taking a “zero tolerance” approach to immigration by attempting to prosecute all families who illegally cross the border. This means that parents who are charged with illegal entry will be detained and separated from their children. After the children are separated from their parents, they are referred to ORR.

The figures we have discussed don’t include children in the care of family sponsors. According to Wolfe, about 93% of all unaccompanied children are released to sponsors. So far, more than 30,000 children have been referred to ORR in 2018. In 2017, there was a total of 40,810 referrals. Wolfe also stated that the government has 1,218 reserve beds.

Although these figures don’t actually specify the number of children who showed up at the border unaccompanied, immigrant activists say they are not surprised by the increase. Jennifer Podkul, director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) said, “It is not a surprise at all that ORR is running at incredibly high rates of capacity.”

Podkul notes that this situation is very different from when a surge of Central American children attempted to cross the border back in 2014. “Now, the government has manufactured their own crisis because they’re taking these children away from their parents.” She added that “ORR is really being squeezed if they’re required to take these children.”

The American Psychological Association released a statement in opposition to the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant families. The statement said that separating families “is not only needless and cruel, it threatens the mental and physical health of both the children and their caregivers.” According to the Association “Psychological research shows that immigrants experience unique stressors related to the conditions that led them to flee their home countries in the first place.”

The average length of time a child spends in ORR shelters is 56 days.

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