WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services has placed dozens of undocumented minor mothers and their children into the foster system after the girls gave birth while in U.S. custody.
Although the Obama administration is working to speed up deportations, it is not uncommon for minors seeking asylum to spend two years or more in the system before either being allowed to remain in the country or sent back to their country of origin.
Those wait times mean that minor mothers will end up giving birth while in the United States.
In fiscal year 2013, 50 undocumented, unaccompanied minors gave birth while in custody, according to HHS, which operates the federal refugee system. With the number of minor immigrants expected to as much as quadruple over 2013 levels, potentially more girls could deliver children while in custody this year — all of whom would be U.S. citizens.
According to HHS spokesman Ken Wolfe, the "children born to unaccompanied minors in HHS' custody are kept with their mothers and placed into foster homes together until they can be reunified with family/sponsors."
Pregnancy is one of a host of complicating factors making an already difficult situation on the border harder for an already overwhelmed federal response system.
Internal Customs and Border Protection documents obtained by BuzzFeed provide a snapshot into the situation on the border. On June 21, a total of 844 unaccompanied minors were being held in the Nogales Placement Center, which has become one of the primary processing hubs for the minor immigrants.
The demographic breakdown of the minors in custody that day indicate that most of the minors cross into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, are boys, are between the ages of 14 and 17, and come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. On June 21, only three minors under the age of 5 were in custody, according to the document; additionally, seven children from Ecuador, four unaccompanied children from India, and one unaccompanied minor from China were being held at the Nogales facility.
Processing and caring for the minors takes significant federal resources. More than 250 federal employees from FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and HHS were working in the facility, in addition to an eight- to ten-person Red Cross team helping to run a phone bank for the minors.
Significantly, the documents also show that in addition to the 844 minors already in Nogales on June 21, a total of 313 unaccompanied minors were apprehended along the border by CBP officials.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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