(CNN) — Migrant families are “separating themselves” in Mexico, sending children alone to cross into the United States after being evicted, the chief US Border Patrol agent in the river valley sector told CNN. Big.
“What we are seeing, more and more, is that families are separating themselves in Mexico,” Brian Hastings, who leads the most active sector of the Border Patrol in the United States, said in an interview Monday.
From February 24 to March 23, there were 435 incidents in the South Texas region where children were detained crossing the border alone after being previously expelled with their family as part of the pandemic health order known as the ‘Title 42 “. The report is based on intelligence the Border Patrol has on unaccompanied children in their custody, according to Hastings.
The Biden administration has had to deal with a growing number of immigrant arrivals who have overwhelmed resources and created overcrowded conditions. The situation has also contributed to children spending prolonged periods in Border Patrol custody, beyond the legal limit of 72 hours.
Cases of self-separation of families at the border
To underscore concern about the danger associated with the rise in unaccompanied minors, Hastings shared a video of a 10-year-old boy who he said was found alone in the field on the morning of April 1, after the group he was traveling with left him alone.
“Can you help me?” The boy asked a Border Patrol agent after a farmer saw the boy and alerted authorities. Video provided to CNN by the agency shows what appears to be the Border Patrol initially finding the boy who they say is afraid.
He had traveled with about 80 other people, without parents, according to Hastings. The boy had been left for about four hours, Hastings said, adding that “when he woke up, he didn’t know where he was or where to go or what to do.”
All of the 10-year-old’s circumstances are unknown, including how and why he came to the United States. It is also unknown whether it is a case of self-separation.
Unfortunately, such incidents are becoming “common,” Hastings said, adding that children have been found on the riverbank with a phone number written on their clothing, while others have been driven off the rafts by smugglers.
In the Rio Grande Valley sector, there have been around 167,000 finds since the start of the fiscal year in October 2020, nearly 26,000 up from the same time period in 2019, during the previous border influx.
“We continue to see the numbers grow,” he said.
More than 22,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained in the region this fiscal year. The number of families entering the area is increasing “very rapidly,” Hastings said, referring to the current demographics.
Amid the most recent influx at the border, the Biden administration has continued to rely on a Trump-era health law, known as Title 42, which allows federal officials to quickly eject migrants during the pandemic, rather than go through immigration or asylum processes in the US
But the administration has made an exception for children, who are transferred to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “The only people we are not going to let feel alone on the other side of the Rio Grande without help are the children, “said President Joe Biden during a recent news conference.
That effort to keep children from waiting in Mexico may have had an unintended consequence, as some families seem to have decided to make the heartbreaking decision to send their children across the border without them.
The Border Patrol is encountering children who were previously detained with a family member and expelled under Title 42, and then re-entered the United States alone, Hastings said, “knowing they will be placed in HHS custody.”
Hastings said the agency is trying to gather as much intelligence to determine current trends and traffic patterns, but said it is “very difficult when there are so many people” to interview all of the detainees, given the large volume of people.
Under the Trump administration, hundreds of children who had initially arrived at the southern border of the United States with their families later crossed alone after being subject to a policy that forced migrants to wait in Mexico until their hearing date in the United States. , often in dangerous conditions.
Last week, CNN reported that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found a record number of unaccompanied minors in March, according to preliminary data, highlighting the worrying upward trend. .
New facilities to house immigrant minors
The Biden administration has been quick to establish emergency sites to house migrant children, many of whom have been in overcrowded conditions. CBP is operating two large temporary tents to help manage the influx of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, including one in Donna, Texas, located in the Hastings area of responsibility.
HHS recently announced a series of new facilities, relying on convention centers, military sites and influx shelters, to accommodate minors.
Despite the new facilities, the administration has struggled to quickly remove children from border facilities and into more appropriate HHS care.
“We have been working very hard with our partners at HHS to try and keep up with such a high level of activity,” Hastings said. “But they need to step up and they are working hard to get there.”
More than 350 children are detained on average per day in the region, Hastings said. “It’s not keeping up,” Hastings said of the number of HHS facilities opening compared to the large number of children arriving.
The 10-year-old boy, found Friday, is fine, Hastings said, and was in CBP custody as of Monday. The agency was working with HHS to get him into their care “as quickly as possible.”
In late March, following calls for greater transparency, the government allowed some members of the media to tour a temporary CBP facility in Donna, Texas, a part of the industry that Hastings oversees. Inside, cameras captured children lying next to each other in plastic-lined pods, shelves full of supplies, and dozens of people waiting to be processed by immigration authorities.
The facility remains well above capacity, with around 4,200 immigrants, most of them children, in the facility – on Monday morning – despite a pandemic capacity of 250. It was built to house just 1,500 people, regardless of pandemic guidelines.
Some families are allowed to stay
Many families have also been allowed to remain in the United States, as the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico, which is located south of the Rio Grande Valley, will not accept the expulsion of certain family members from the United States. of families, along with the large number of children, is depleting resources and capacity, Hastings said.
To ease pressure on staff and facilities in the region, some migrant families are transported by bus or plane to other regions of Texas, primarily Laredo and El Paso. In other cases, the agency will release families without a “notice to appear,” saving hours on paperwork to speed up processing and get people out of government custody faster.
The situation has been “overwhelming for officers,” Hastings said, particularly from the Donna facility, where 500 people are crammed into plastic capsules, which are intended to house about 38 people.
“It is very difficult, very hard for people who are husbands, parents, grandparents, grandmothers to see this many children in our custody,” he said, echoing something the administration has repeatedly said: “The Border Patrol facility does not It is the place for anyone, especially children or long term families.
– CNN’s Priscilla Álvarez contributed to this report.