Nearly 12,800 immigrant children are currently being detained by the U.S. government, a record-high figure spread across 100 federally contracted shelters that is five times higher than the amount held in May 2017, the New York Times is reporting.
While the figure is only somewhat higher than numbers reported earlier this year, 2,500 of those children arrived with their families and were separated under a new Trump administration policy. The remaining children in custody arrived as unaccompanied minors. More than 2,000 of those separated children have since been reunited with their families after a judge issued an injunction in June. About 500 remain in shelters, alongside at least 12,000 other children who have arrived in the United States on their own. By the numbers, that means that potentially 3,000 new unaccompanied minors have been detained by the U.S. government in the past few months, and have not been released.
The rapid growth in numbers since summer—and the massive increase since May 2017—also may relate to delays in vetting family members or sponsors to whom the children could be released. Since June, the government has put new policies in place requiring fingerprinting for family members and sponsors who agree to be responsible for the children when they are released. This process has increased delays and deterred those who would retrieve children, as many who would claim the children are undocumented themselves, and the government has said it will release that information to immigration authorities.
Just days ago, the Trump administration said it would change a long-standing settlement related to holding children for longer than 20 days in detention by restructuring its facilities to hold entire families for unlimited periods. The policy is likely to face challenges in court.
The number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. without documentation has remained about the same, according to data provided to the Times, representing a significant failure in the government’s effort to dissuade immigration without authorization.
The government’s system of federally-contracted shelters is at 90 percent capacity, while the Trump administration plans to expand an expensive tent city in Texas that costs several times the amount of fixed shelters. Critics of detention policies cite a system stretched to its limits that put children through trauma and potentially subject to violence.
The newspaper obtained these immigration figures from members of Congress. The Trump administration had not separately released figures.