Back to News list

More Migrant Kids Held in Mass Shelters, AP Investigation Finds

Associated Press

Keker, Van Nest & Peters lawyer Travis Silva was interviewed for an Associated Press special investigation on migrant children being held in U.S. custody while they await immigration proceedings. He recently secured the release of a 17-year-old Guatemalan refugee being held at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility. Excerpts from the Associated Press story follow.

Decades after the U.S. stopped institutionalizing kids because large and crowded orphanages were causing lasting trauma, it is happening again. The federal government has placed most of the 14,300 migrant toddlers, children and teens in its care in detention centers and residential facilities packed with hundreds, or thousands, of children.

As the year draws to a close, some 5,400 detained migrant children in the U.S. are sleeping in shelters with more than 1,000 other children. Some 9,800 are in facilities with 100-plus total kids, according to confidential government data obtained and cross-checked by The Associated Press.

That’s a huge shift from just three months after President Donald Trump took office, when the same federal program had 2,720 migrant youth in its care; most were in shelters with a few dozen kids or in foster programs. Some of the children may be released sooner than anticipated, because this week the administration ended a portion of its strict screening policies that had slowed the placement of migrant kids with relatives in the U.S.

Until now, public information has been limited about the number of youths held at each facility overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, even for attorneys representing the kids. But the AP obtained data showing the number of children in individual detention centers, shelters and foster care programs for nearly every week over the past 20 months, revealing in detail the expanse of a program at the center of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.

The data shows the degree to which the government’s approach to migrant youth has hardened, marking a new phase in a federal program originally intended to offer safe haven to vulnerable children fleeing danger across the globe. It’s been taking at least twice as long — on average two months rather than one — for youth held inside the system to get out, in part because the Trump administration added more restrictive screening measures for parents and relatives who would take them in.

Suspected gang members can be sent to several high-security facilities. An attorney for a Guatemalan teen held in the Yolo County, California, juvenile detention center for 11 months said his client was locked in restraints when he acted out and stung with pepper spray. Attorney Travis Silva convinced a judge to release the boy in November to his mother in Ohio. He’s now being treated for trauma and mental illness, said Silva, and shelter statistics show 14 other teens remain locked inside.

“He was locked in a cell, allowed one hour a day outside,” said Silva. “And outdoor time was anxiety-provoking, because that’s when there could be fights.”

Read the full report here