US border officials estimate as many as 184,000 unaccompanied migrant children will reach the border with Mexico this year, according to an internal document obtained by Reuters news agency.
The estimate highlights a growing challenge for US President Joe Biden, who is struggling to accommodate a growing number of minors, mostly from Central America.
This Wednesday (31), for example, the Mexican government reported finding a 4-year-old Honduran traveling alone near the river that separates Mexico from the United States.
Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said the boy was unaccompanied among the trees and undergrowth, walking towards the border. A group of three women and six children, all Hondurans, were in the same area, but no one was responsible for the boy, according to the organization.
The ten migrants were taken into custody by the Mexican department dedicated to the welfare of the family.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) report, released by Reuters, estimates that between 159,000 and 184,000 unaccompanied minors (who attempt to cross the border alone, with smugglers or with relatives other than their own parents) arrive in the United States. States in fiscal year 2021, which began in October 2020.
If the numbers are confirmed, it will be the largest flow on record since 2010, when the historic series begins. The year with the most apprehension of unaccompanied minors so far has been 2019, still under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, when 76,000 children and adolescents arrived at the border alone.
March is also expected to have the highest number of unaccompanied minors, with 15,000 crossing the border with Mexico, according to the CBP estimate – official statistics are expected to be released in early April. Thus, the period would demystify May 2019, when 11,500 children were apprehended.
The document also provides estimates of the occupancy of shelters to which these children are to be sent within 72 hours of seizure. As of Monday (29), there were 12,000 children in the care of the Department of Health and Social Services, a number that could quadruple to 53,000 in September.
The CBP projections exclude Mexican children, however, as most could return to Mexico quickly thanks to a bilateral agreement. The estimates are also based on the assumption that the Biden government will not change policies on unaccompanied minors – new policies may lead to different numbers.
In any case, the increasing increase puts the shelter system under great pressure. According to data from the Refugee Resettlement Office, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 11,900 vacant positions at these facilities. To keep up with demand, the Biden government launched an effort last week to create an additional 16,000 vacancies, according to US broadcaster CBS.
On another note, the US Department of Homeland Security determined two weeks ago that an agency normally tasked with responding to floods and hurricanes would help care for a growing number of migrant children arriving in the country. border with Mexico.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) had been called in to “help receive, shelter and transport the children” for the next 90 days.
The United States faces the largest increase in migrants in the past 20 years. According to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security two weeks ago, attempts to cross borders by people from Mexico and the Northern Triangle – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – have steadily increased since April 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic, hurricanes and other natural disasters which have caused great damage in the countries of origin of immigrants explain, according to the secretary, the deterioration of the living conditions of those who risk crossing the border illegally.
CBP and the refugee resettlement office did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.