Despite fears stoked by Trump, fewer migrants are arriving at the border than in past years but most are now children headed to facilities that are ill-equipped to receive them
At a border patrol processing facility in McAllen, Texas on 11 June, a group of lawyers and doctors met a 17-year-old girl from Guatemala. She was in a wheelchair and she held her tiny one-month-old daughter, who was swaddled in a gray sweatshirt so dirty it was almost black.
The mother said she had an emergency C-section in Mexico at eight months pregnant. She was in so much pain she couldnt stand, she said, yet US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the agency in charge of screening and processing migrants, had told her it couldnt release her unless she could walk.
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I took a Kleenex with water and I washed dirt, black dirt, off her neck, said Hope Frye, an immigration attorney, of the infant she now calls Baby K. When Frye and the rest of the group saw the mother the next day, Baby K was shaking violently and cold to the touch. The sweatshirt had been replaced with a thin, threadbare towel.
On 13 June CBP released Baby K and her mother for immediate medical attention, after Frye and her team, worried the premature baby might die, publicized their condition.
The facility in McAllen was not designed to hold Baby K and her mother. But over the past month, reports have emerged that hundreds of children are being detained in such processing centers for weeks, in squalid conditions one eyewitness called affirmatively cruel.
The US immigration system is failing to accommodate children and families seeking legal asylum. Experts say it is a manufactured crisis, designed to create a backlog, drive political support for the presidents hardline policies and, in theory, deter migrants from crossing the border.
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As a policy, it is not working. The number of children and families arriving at the border seeking asylum a process the US is required to observe under international law has increased as conditions in Central America have become more desperate. In the early 2000s, the majority of those apprehended at the border were single male workers, predominantly from Mexico. Most are now children and families seeking asylum. According to CBP data, about 72% of those apprehended at the border in May were families or children. In 2012, only 10% were families or children.
The vast majority of these migrants are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras countries where political turmoil, economic instability and violence have been exacerbated by the climate crisis and past US intervention.
But despite fears stoked by the Trump administration, the number of migrants arriving at the border is lower than in previous years, hovering between 400,000 and 600,000 annually, less than half the 1.6m who were apprehended in 2000.