The Office of Refugee Resettlement is preparing for the arrivals of unaccompanied children in their care to double this fiscal year, according to an HHS official.
The office – which is within the Health and Human Services Department and is tasked with caring for migrant children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian – has taken 30,883 children into custody this fiscal year to date. If current trends hold, referrals of unaccompanied children to HHS could surpass the record 2016 figures, when 59,171 minors were referred for care.
“At this point it (would) be close to 2016 and could potentially mark a new record due to more (unaccompanied children) coming across the border,” the official said.
Apprehensions of children at the border has been on this rise this year. US Border Patrol has apprehended 26,937 unaccompanied children so far in fiscal year 2019, according to the most recently available government data. Last year, during the same time period, 17,501 children were taken into Border Patrol custody.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on Wednesday that March will be the highest month for illegal border crossings in around a decade, the majority of which are families and unaccompanied children predominantly from Central America. This month alone, almost 40,000 children will come into CBP’s custody, he added.
However, not all of those children arrived without a parent.
CBP refers unaccompanied children to Health and Human Services, which attempts to place them with a sponsor in the United States.
While the numbers of border apprehensions impact the capacity in HHS facilities, it’s not a direct correlation.
Still, just as apprehensions fluctuate, so has the number of unaccompanied children in HHS custody over the years.
Prior to fiscal year 2012, the number of children sent to the program each year hovered under 8,000. Despite a surge of unaccompanied minors in the summer of 2014, the biggest spike was in fiscal year 2016, when 59,171 children were referred.
Earlier this month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar notified Congress in a letter that the department planned to reallocate up to $385 million in fiscal year 2019 for the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.