Leaked documents say hundreds of unaccompanied minors are being held at the US border for an average 107 hours, far longer than the legal limit

Customs and Border Protection
A US Customs and Border Protection agent stands guard on the US side of the US-Mexico border fence. PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images
  • Unaccompanied minors are being held in CBP facilities for several days, reports citing leaked docs say.
  • That length of time is higher than the legal limit of 72 hours.
  • The Biden administration is scrambling with a surge in unaccompanied minors entering the US.
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Hundreds of unaccompanied minors are being held in US border facilities for longer than the legal limit, reports say, citing leaked government documents.

A Department of Health and Human Services internal document obtained by CBS News said that almost 1,400 unaccompanied minors had been held in Customs and Border Protection facilities for more than three days as of Monday.

That’s despite the 72-hour legal limit for holding migrant children in CBP border-processing facilities.

More than 3,200 migrant children had been held in CBP facilities as of Monday, CBS reported.

The Washington Post also reported that, as of Wednesday, the figure was nearly 3,500. The newspaper cited internal government data it had obtained, and said this was the highest figure ever.

The Post said that unaccompanied minors were being held for an average 107 hours.

According to federal law, unaccompanied minors must be transferred from CBP facilities to HHS shelters within 72 hours unless there are “exceptional circumstances.

Insider has contacted the Department of Health and Human Services and Customs and Border Protection for comment.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection patch is seen on the arm of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Mission, Texas, U.S., July 1, 2019.  REUTERS/Loren Elliott
A US Customs and Border Protection patch is seen on the arm of a CBP agent. Reuters

A former Department of Homeland Security official told CBS that the number of children currently in CBP custody is the highest ever. CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Another 8,500 migrant teens and children are currently being held at HHS shelters, according to The Post. These minors wait at the shelters until they are handed over to relatives or to sponsors that have been approved by the department.

CBS reported that there is a shortage of beds at the HHS shelters, while the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border is increasing. This means minors being held at CBP facilities.

The network also noted that the capacity in the HHS shelters had been reduced due to social-distancing measures put in place for the coronavirus pandemic.

Troy Miller, the acting head of CBP, told reporters on Wednesday that CBP is continuing “to struggle with the number of individuals in our custody, especially given the pandemic,” The Post reported.

The Post noted that the CBP facilities are made up of cells with concrete floors and benches, and agents say that lights are left on 24 hours a day.

Miller said that those in CBP facilities have meals, snacks and medical care, and showers every 48 hours.

He said, according to The Post: “Many of us, maybe most of us, are parents … I myself have a 6-year-old, and these Border Patrol agents go above and beyond every single day to take care of the children.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement told CBS that it is working “aggressively” to release the minors to sponsors, which are often family members based in the US.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki shared the Biden administration’s policies on unaccompanied minors in February.

She said that the policies differ from those in the Trump administration, when children were forcibly separated from their parents.

She said a rising number of children are now arriving without parents and relatives, and the Biden administration had to figure out how best to deal with them.

“We have a couple of options: We can send them back home … We can quickly transfer them from CPB to these HHS-run facilities … We can put them with families and sponsors without any vetting,” she said, according to Axios.

“We’ve chosen the middle option.”

The Biden administration in February reopened a migrant child facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, to house 700 unaccompanied minors, in what it said was a temporary measure to cope with the surge in arrivals.

Biden had ended a Trump-era policy that allowed the government to immediately send unaccompanied minors home. According to Axios, some experts say this change has contributed to the number of children being held at facilities.

The Post noted that some Republicans are saying the same thing: That Biden changed Trump-era policies without putting new policies in place to deal with the effects of the change.