In response to recent and upcoming delegation visits to migrant centers, the Texas Immigration Network, a Texas Family Leadership Council (TXFLC) workgroup, hosted a virtual roundtable to unpack the current issue of unaccompanied children at the Texas border. Speaking from their on-the-ground experiences working with migrant children, child advocates spoke on the condition of facilities, the trauma linked to unaccompanied children, and how best to support them.  

Watch a recording of the roundtable discussion (originally aired on Facebook March 25, 2021) below. 

Roundtable Participants:

  • Dr. Bob Sanborn – President & CEO, CHILDREN AT RISK
  • Sister Norma Pimentel – Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
  • Maria Castillo- Supervising Attorney, Children’s Detained Program, RAICES
  • Linda Y. Rivas, Esq. – Executive Director, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
  • Jennifer Nagda – Policy Director, the Young Center for Immigrant Children
  • Yael Ross – Director for Center for New American Children, CHILDREN AT RISK

Background Information:

In February, more than 9,250 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the US-Mexico border. This number has increased significantly from around 5,600 children that crossed the border this January. Due to the Biden Administration’s current policy which no longer expels unaccompanied children, and the COVID-19 restrictions facilities have in place, the immigration system is under tremendous strain. This has left unaccompanied children facing increased risks as they wait to be processed in a system that lacks the necessary resources to support them.

Conflict, poverty, and corruption in their home countries continues to play a large role in migration to the US border. This has been compounded by damage from recent hurricanes in the Northern Triangle countries and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, unaccompanied children making the journey to the US is not a new phenomenon. Prior to the current administration, these children were largely turned away as a result of Title 42 which closed the border to all “nonessential” travel under a public-health law, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. This policy has been reversed for unaccompanied children but otherwise largely remains in effect.

To support unaccompanied minors, government representatives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have responded by adopting measures such as, creating joint processing centers, which will allow children to be placed in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care, which is overseen by HHS, immediately after they are apprehended by Border Patrol. In addition, emergency housing facilities, such as those at the Dallas Convention Center, have been set up across the state to hold the children until they are processed. However, children continue to be held in overcrowded and unfit Customs Border Patrol (CBP) facilities. In many cases, they are held longer than the 72 hours allowed under the Flores agreement, which provides basic protections for unaccompanied minors in CBP custody.

To protect these children, we need to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure, capacity, resources, and trauma-informed personnel available to provide critical care and release for all unaccompanied minors. Reports of children sleeping on the floor, unable to shower for days, and not being able to call family members to indicate unacceptable conditions for children. Detention of children for any length of time can negatively impact their physical and mental health. Most children already have some form of trauma when they arrive in the US, due to their experience in their country of origin and what they have undergone on their journey. Inhumane conditions and lengthened time in facilities exacerbate these issues.

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