A startling new statistic has been uncovered as the Trump administration grapples with how to reunite more than 500 children with their families as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy: There are currently dozens of children who have been detained for more than two years.
While data shows that a majority of separated children, 74%, are reunited with their families in roughly two months, “long-term detentions were not uncommon,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Over the past six years, more than 25,000 children were detained for more than 100 days.
Since September 2014, nearly 1,000 migrant children have been detained in shelters and separated from their families for a year or longer. At least two children have remained in custody, as of data from Aug. 12, after more than five years.
In some cases, pregnant teenagers who were separated from their families gave birth while in custody — in six cases, those infants were also detained for a year or more in shelters in Texas and Arizona.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs the shelter system through the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Los Angeles Times that children in long-term custody “represent a thin slice of those in its care.” It added that sometimes migrant children “have sponsorships that fall through, or the child otherwise chooses to pursue legal immigration relief while in ORR custody, which can account for a higher length of care.”
In 2018, the Trump administration decided to implement a family separation policy after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — anyone who attempted to enter the country illegally would be prosecuted, including parents who traveled with their children. At the time, officials acknowledged that prosecuting every undocumented immigrant would slow down the process considerably and, as a result, decided to send detained children to HHS, according to NBC News.
After that policy was implemented, the share of children separated from their families for more than 100 days skyrocketed from less than 10% at the end of 2016 to 38% in 2018. Since the policy was repealed, the share of children separated for that long has returned to below 10%.
That policy made headlines again earlier this month, when lawyers appointed by a federal judge to track down the families of children who were still detained said that they were unable to locate the parents of 545 children — in many cases because the parents had already been deported to Central America.
Since then, evidence has surfaced detailing “inhumane and cruel” experiences unaccompanied migrant children have undergone in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol before being sent to HHS. According to the Washington Post, a 2019 report found that about 1 in 8 children were subject to verbal or physical abuse and endured “noisy and crowded facilities, frigid temperatures, and frozen, rotten or otherwise inadequate meals.”