Number of migrant kids in cages drops 45% (now they're in convention centers)

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

The number of kids crowded into Border Patrol detention facilities, what came to be known as “kids in cages” during the Trump years, has dropped by 45%. However, that still leaves more than 3,000 kids in the facilities at this moment and those that remain are still being held much longer than the law allows.

As of Sunday, there were 3,130 children in the custody of CBP, an agency not intended to care for children for prolonged periods of time, marking a drop from the peak — 5,767 on March 28 — since the government started providing data, indicating progress in alleviating Border Patrol stations.

The average time in CBP custody for unaccompanied migrant children is still far above the 72-hour legal limit, though, hovering around 122 hours, according to data obtained by CNN.

There would never have been a day during the Trump administration when 3,130 “kids in cages” was spun as good news by CNN. But things are so much worse now that this legitimately counts as a big improvement.

Of course the kids are still the care of the federal government, they’ve just moved from crowded CBP facilities to slightly more humane facilities run by HHS. Lately that probably means a convention center or a military base: “As a result, the number of children in HHS custody has grown: As of Sunday, there were 18,027 children in HHS custody.”

But there are so many kids coming and so many more expected that they are being spread out around the country. 100 kids were sent “behavioral health campus” in Albion, Michigan. That facility could eventually hold up to 240 boys between the ages of 5 and 17. Another 150 kids are being sent to a facility in Erie, PA.

But not everyone is going along with the plans. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order preventing the feds from placing kids in the state’s foster care system:

In a letter dated April 8, [Department of Social Services] Director Michael Leach told McMaster about the federal government’s “preliminary inquiries to transport an unknown number of unaccompanied migrant children from the southern border and place them in South Carolina foster care and group homes licensed by DSS,” the release states.

“South Carolina’s children must always be given first priority for placement into foster care and the State’s strained resources must be directed to addressing the needs of its children,” McMaster responded in a message to Leach. “Allowing the federal government to place an unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our state’s child welfare system for an unspecified length of time is an unacceptable proposition. We’ve been down this road with the federal government before and the state usually ends up ‘on the hook.’”

The Biden administration is trying to provide enough bodies to care for all of these kids by offering federal workers several months of paid leave:

The Department of Health and Human Services offered federal employees four months of paid leave if they volunteered to help care for a surge of unaccompanied migrant children at immigration shelters near the southern border, according to a report last Saturday.

The request applied to most federal workers as the Biden administration moved to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed facilities, the New York Times reported. As of last week, more than 2,700 federal employees volunteered to assist Health and Human Services officials with tasks ranging from childcare at shelters to IT services and food delivery.

Meanwhile, everyone thinks this is just the start of the crisis. We’re barely managing to handle to nearly 19,000 kids who arrived last month and we could see the same or more this month. Where will they all go? Who will take care of them? And most importantly, will the surge subside for a while or will it be just as big next spring? These are all questions the Biden administration is asking but it’s not clear what the answers are yet.