he number of undocumented children being held without their parents in U.S. government custody has seen a 21 percent increase in the past month after the Trump administration announced its "zero tolerance" crackdown on families caught crossing the border illegally, it has emerged.
Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Administration for Children and Families spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe told Newsweek on Wednesday that it had as many as 10,852 undocumented children in its custody—a significant jump from the 8,886 that were in the agency's custody on April 29, according to the Washington Post. spokesman for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families told
In fiscal year 2013, under the Barack Obama administration, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had as many as 25,000 unaccompanied children in its care across 80 shelters, according to a July 2014 article in Mother Jones.
A mother shields the face of her son from the Sun, as her husband carries their sleeping boy, 3, after their family illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on December 7, 2015 near Rio Grande City, Texas. The Trump administration has vowed to separate families caught crossing into the U.S. illegally.
The number represented a huge jump from 2011, when the ORR had just 53 shelters housing 6,560 kids.
The surge in the number of children being taken into custody was so unexpected that federal immigration authorities temporarily placed children in emergency dormitories at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Mother Jones reported.
At the time, the dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border had "reached a crisis proportion" by June 2014, with a 90 percent surge in arrivals from 2013, according to Migration Policy.
While it is unclear how many of the children taken into custody without their parents under the Trump administration have been separated from their families and how many arrived in the U.S. unaccompanied, the recent surge in their numbers comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration's "zero tolerance" rule, which sees parents who arrive in the U.S. illegally with their children sent to federal jails, while their young ones are kept in HHS shelters.
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said earlier this month at the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies' 2018 spring conference. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border," he said.
Wendy Young, president of the advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense told the Post it is the Trump administration's decision to separate children from their families is what sets it apart from enforcing "the most aggressive response to Central American migration we've seen to date."
She said it is "disingenuous to couch this as a continuation" of Obama's policies.
“What’s happened is the exception to the rule is now becoming the rule,” Young said. “Here they’re doing zero-tolerance policy to punish families and send a message to their home countries: Don’t do this.”
HHS shelters are already at 95 percent capacity, HHS confirmed to Newsweek.
Wolfe told Newsweek the agency currently has “an existing network of approximately 100 shelters in 14 states."
He said "additional properties identified by federal agencies are being evaluated...as potential locations for temporary sheltering" as a "last resort."