Many of the nearly 2,000 unaccompanied migrant children being held in overcrowded U.S. Border Patrol facilities have been there beyond legally allowed time limits, including some 12 or younger, reports the Washington Post. Federal law and court orders require that children in Border Patrol custody be transferred to more-hospitable shelters no longer than 72 hours after they are apprehended. Some unaccompanied children are spending longer than a week in Border Patrol stations and processing centers. One government official said about half of the children in custody — 1,000 — have been with the Border Patrol for longer than 72 hours; another official said more than 250 children 12 or younger have been in custody for an average of six days.
Because the crush of migration at the southern border has overwhelmed the U.S. immigration infrastructure, initial incarceration for the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have arrived there has averaged four days. “I don’t have any beds, because we’re meant to be short-term processing — not even holding,” one official said of the agency’s facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, at which some children are sleeping on mats on the floor. “I have stools and benches, but I have no beds. . . . Our facilities are not built for long-term holding, and they’re certainly not built to house children for very long at all.” The agencies responsible for the care, transport and sheltering of the unaccompanied children have described a bureaucratic tangle during the influx of youths, passing the blame for the delays. Because the Border Patrol is the first agency to have them in custody, it has been seeing the backup directly in its stations along the southern border. The Border Patrol has apprehended nearly 45,000 unaccompanied children since October.