The number of migrant children held in U.S. government shelters has recently skyrocketed to an all-time high of 12,800, according to data obtained by the New York Times. This is despite a court order to return all detained migrant children separated under the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” to their parents by July 26th.
In May 2017, approximately 2800 children were being held in “federally contracted shelters,” according to the Times. This current increase is not due to a growth in migrant children arrivals, but because fewer children are released to their families or sponsor families in the U.S. While some of these children were separated from their parents at the border, the majority crossed alone, fleeing violence and poverty in their homes, communities, and countries.
Many friends and/or relatives living in the U.S., being undocumented themselves, are more reluctant to sponsor children due to fears of deportation. At the other end, the government spends more time than before vetting potential sponsors, causing backlogs in the system. Many shelters are reportedly at 90% capacity, adding more stress to an already overtaxed immigration system and decreasing its capacity to “address anything unforeseen,” according to Mark Greenberg, who oversaw migrant child care in the Health and Human Services Department under the Obama Administration.
While careful vetting is important and necessary for the well-being of migrant children, a longer time in shelters is harmful to their physical and emotional health. The shelters were not designed to hold so many children and kids who spend a long time in such shelters become more anxious, depressed and may harm themselves or others, according to Greenberg.
Children separated at the border from their parents, being held in detention centres and temporary “tent cities” after shelters began to overflow, have also shown other adverse effects. Suffering immensely at the border and from the conditions of the detention centres, some younger children failed to recognize or showed little familiarity with their parents and families.
This is not the first time the U.S. immigration system has come under scrutiny for poor planning, unequipped infrastructure, low staffing and budgeting, and significant backlogs, resulting in an overtaxed immigration system. However, these issues currently affect many children, and housing more children in shelters would be incredibly damaging for them. A better, structured system needs to be adapted so children spend a minimal time in shelters while sponsors are thoroughly vetted, ensuring that the kids receive the best care possible.
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