A pregnant teenager and a nine-month-old child were held in an upstate New York US Border Patrol station for around ten days while authorities tried to find them placement in a more permanent facility, according to a US Border Patrol official and a second source familiar with the situation.
This comes at a time when US officials have increasingly raised concerns about the length of time migrants are spending in Border Patrol custody, particularly as the number of migrant families and children continues to rise to unprecedented levels at the US-Mexico border.
The Border Patrol official described the station as a “really short-term” facility. It is “not meant to hold babies,” they said. “Imagine, it’s concrete.”
Border Patrol agents apprehended the 17-year-old, who is believed to have Romanian nationality, along with her baby and three other individuals around May 21 after crossing into the US from Canada, according to the official. After she was apprehended, Border Patrol notified the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for placing and caring for unaccompanied migrant children.
The teenager was concerned about why she was being held for so long, asking, “Why?” according to the official. The official said she was told, “We are waiting for the space,” and “Maybe tomorrow.”
“‘Tomorrow’ was more than 10 days,” added the official.
Border Patrol stations have temporary holding facilities and are not designed to house people for any length of stay. Children are supposed to be transferred out of custody “as soon as possible” and no later than 72 hours, according to Customs and Border Protection policy.
“Top to bottom,” Border Patrol agents in the upstate New York region where she was held were concerned about the time she spent in the station, the official said.
The northern Border Patrol stations are not facing the same capacity issues as the southern border, which has seen a surge this year of mostly Central Americans arriving at the border, but seem to have similarly struggled to place a minor in appropriate government custody.
The teenager and her child were transferred to the US agency responsible for the long-term care of migrant minors around May 31, according to the official. It was “definitely” a relief, when a more permanent placement was found, the official said.
HHS, which manages the unaccompanied minor program under the Office of Refugee Resettlement, does not comment on specific unaccompanied minor cases, according to spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer.
“We continue to experience a humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border of the United States, and the situation becomes more dire each day,” Stauffer, who stressed the agency’s need for supplemental emergency funding from Congress, said.
As of April 30, the office had been sent around 40,900 children this fiscal year, putting the agency on track to care for the largest number of unaccompanied children in the program’s history.
“HHS continues to operate near capacity, despite placing UAC [unaccompanied alien children] with sponsors at historically high rates. HHS is working diligently to expand its bed capacity to ensure that it can keep pace, and based on the anticipated growth, HHS expects its need for additional bed capacity to continue,” she said in a statement.
Due to privacy protections, CBP referred the matter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to an agency spokesperson. The Romanian consulate in New York did not have a record of the arrest, based on the available information.
On the US-Mexico border, more than 144,000 migrants were encountered or arrested in May, the highest monthly total in 13 years, CBP announced earlier this month. There were approximately 396,000 apprehensions on the southern border in 2018, and about 4,300 all of last year at the northern border.
“A lot of the time” people aren’t moving out of Border Patrol custody because there are no placements available with HHS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a senior Border Patrol official said told CNN. ICE is responsible for the processing and care of migrant single adults and families.
Border Patrol is keeping people longer than they would like, said the official, adding that the two main reasons for holding children in stations for an extended time period are: the large volume of migrants arriving at the southern border and finding placement.
“Unaccompanied minors are at the top of the list,” but “some of those individuals are also surpassing the 72 hours,” the senior official said.