An unfortunate trend continues to develop at the southern border, as new statistics are highlighting a humanitarian crisis that is emerging.  There has been a sustained increase in the number unaccompanied children being taken into custody and a lack of sufficient shelter space to house them.  As of Sunday morning, U.S. Border Patrol was holding more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in short-term holding facilities, including jail-like stations unfit to house minors.  Also troubling is that nearly 3,000 of the unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody had been held longer than 72 hours. CBP is legally obligated to transfer most unaccompanied minors to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency which oversees shelters licensed to house children, within three days of taking them into custody.  The number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody on Sunday represents a 31% increase from early last week, when the agency was holding more than 3,200 minors. The number of children held longer than three days more than doubled.

In February, nearly 9,500 unaccompanied children entered U.S. border custody, with more than 7,000 transferred to ORR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Arrivals of Central American teenagers and children have only increased in March.  With thousands of children held in short-term Border Patrol facilities, most of which were built to detain migrant men, detention conditions have become overcrowded.  Reports have emerged that conditions have been terrible given the overcrowding.  According to government data, centers in Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, Texas, as well as Yuma and Tucson, Arizona — are all over capacity when it comes to their space to house unaccompanied children. With more than 2,500 unaccompanied minors in custody, the Rio Grande Valley sector is currently at 363% capacity.  With approximately 9,000 children in custody and its beds reduced by social distancing measures, the refugee office has been scrambling to find space for unaccompanied migrant children. The agency is considering housing children at a military installation in Virginia, as well as a federal airfield in California overseen by NASA.