From February 24 to March 23, 435 incidents occurred in the South Texas area, where children were apprehended alone while crossing the border after being deported with their families under the pandemic health ordinance “Title 42,” based on information that Border Patrol collected from unaccompanied children who have been placed in their care, according to Hastings.
To underscore concern over the danger of the rising number of unaccompanied children, Hastings shared a video of a 10-year-old who he said was found alone in a field on the morning of the 1st. April, after being left behind by the group he was. travel with.
“Can you help me?” the boy asks a border patrol officer after a farmer spotted the boy and alerted the authorities. A video provided to CNN by the agency shows what appears to be a border patrol initially encountering the boy who says he’s scared.
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.”
The full situation of the 10-year-old is unknown, including how and why he came to the United States. It is also not known whether this is a case of self-separation.
These types of incidents are unfortunately becoming “commonplace,” Hastings said, adding that children have been found on the banks of the river with a phone number written on their clothing, while others have been found. kicked off rafts by smugglers.
In the Rio Grande Valley sector, there have been around 167,000 encounters since the start of the fiscal year in October, nearly 26,000 over the same period in 2019, during the previous border influx.
“We just continue to see the numbers increase,” he said.
More than 22,000 unaccompanied children were taken into police custody in the region during this fiscal year. The number of families arriving in the area is growing “very rapidly,” Hastings said, given the current demographics.
Amid the most recent influx to the border, the Biden administration continued to rely on a Trump-era health law known as Title 42 that allows federal officials to expel migrants quickly during the pandemic, rather than going through immigration or asylum processes in the United States.
But the administration has made an exception for the children, who are transferred to US Health and Human Services. “The only people we’re not going to let sit alone across the Rio Grande without help are the children,” President Joe Biden said at a recent press conference.
This effort to keep children from waiting in Mexico may have had unintended consequences, as it appears some families have made the heartbreaking decision to send their children across the border without them.
The border patrol is meeting with children who were previously apprehended with a family member and deported under Title 42, then returned to the United States on their own, Hastings said, “knowing they will be placed in the custody of the HHS “.
Hastings said the agency was trying to pull together as much information to determine current trends and trafficking patterns, but said it was “very difficult when you have so many people” to interview all of the people detained, being given the large number of people.
Last week, CNN reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered a record number of unaccompanied minors in March, according to preliminary data, highlighting the worrying upward trend.
New HHS facilities
The Biden administration struggled to set up emergency sites to house migrant children, many of whom were in overcrowded conditions. CBP operates two large temporary tent facilities to help manage the influx of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, including one in Donna, Texas, located in the Hastings area of responsibility.
Despite the new facilities, the administration has struggled to get children out of border facilities quickly and place them in more appropriate HHS care.
“We’ve worked really hard with our partners with HHS to try to get them to keep up with such a high level of activity,” Hastings said. “But they have to step it up and they are working hard to make it happen.”
More than 350 children are apprehended on average per day in the region, Hastings said. “It’s not keeping pace,” Hastings said of the number of HHS facilities opening compared to the large number of children arriving.
The 10-year-old, found on Friday, is doing well, Hastings said, and was in CBP detention on Monday. The agency was working with HHS to get him into HHS care “as quickly as possible.”
The facility remains well above capacity, with around 4,200 migrants, the majority of whom are children, in the facility on Monday morning, despite a pandemic capacity of 250. It was built to accommodate only 1,500 people, regardless of location. pandemic guidelines.
Families allowed to stay
Many families have also been allowed to stay in the United States, as the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, south of the Rio Grande Valley, will not accept the deportation of some family members from the United States. . The influx of families, coupled with the large number of children, puts a strain on resources and abilities, Hastings said.
To relieve pressure on staff and facilities in the area, some migrant families are bus or airlifted to other parts of Texas, primarily Laredo and El Paso. In other cases, the agency will release families without “notice of appearance,” saving hours of paperwork to expedite processing and get people out of government custody more quickly.
The situation has been “overwhelming for the officers,” Hastings said, particularly of the Donna facility, where 500 people are crammed into plastic capsules, which are said to hold around 38 people.
“It is very difficult, very difficult for people who are husbands, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers to see so many children in our care,” he said, echoing what the administration said. repeated over and over: anyone, especially children or families for the long haul. “
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.