On Thursday, April 8, 2021, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released monthly data on border crossing, which found that over 18,800 unaccompanied children crossed the border in March. That exceeds any other previous month, with May 2019 reaching the previous high of 11,000 children.
Overall the CBP indicated that more than 172,000 persons attempted entry along the Southwest border, a 71 percent increase over the previous month of February. They also said that encounters at the border have been rising since April of last year due to violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador).
The Biden Administration has been attempting to build capacity for the children crossing the border through more shelters and quicker placement if the child has family here. As of last week, there were more than 20,000 unaccompanied children in U.S. custody, with 4,228 still in CBP custody and an additional 16,045 under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The program was transferred to HHS in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
Children are placed into ORR custody with the goal of placing them with an adult family member if there are relatives here. Otherwise, they are placed with a sponsor who cares for them while they await the conclusion of their immigration proceedings. In what is intended to be limited instances, when no sponsor is available, the program provides care to a child until immigration proceedings. ORR needs confirmation of identity and relationship before release. A birth certificate validated as authentic by consular authorities of the issuing foreign government is the primary method used to confirm a child’s parental relationship. In cases where birth certificates are not available, DNA confirmation of biological maternity or paternity may be used. None of the genetic material, data, or information has been used by HHS or any other federal agency for any purpose other than family unification.
According to HHS budget documents for FY 2021, “Over 90 percent of children referred to the program are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Many have family members in the United States, though less than 50 percent of UAC are placed with parents.”
Until 2012 the annual number of children coming across the border ranged from 6000 to 7000 per year. In 2012 we began to experience mass migration of children and families from Central America to the United States border. By 2014 the numbers reached 57,500. After that, it fluctuated between 34,000 in 2015 to 59,000 in 2016 to 49,000 in 2018.