Border Patrol tracking large spike in unaccompanied migrant children

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El Paso Sector sees nearly double the number of UACs in first four months of 2021; violence and famine in Central America blamed for increase

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A new facility for unaccompanied migrant children is set to open in West El Paso, coinciding with a rise in the number of such minors being encountered by immigration agents in the sector.

Unaccompanied migrant children (UAC) encounters are up 96 percent in the El Paso Sector during the first four months of fiscal year 2021 compared to the same October-to-January period in FY 2020, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. Nationwide those encounters are up 64%.

That means agents have come across 3,317 undocumented children in the region this fiscal year who not with their parents. They were taken to a Border Patrol station or a temporary holding facility for identification and a health screening. Then they were handed over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency said.

The uptick coincides with ongoing violence, insecurity and famine in the Northern Triangle of Central America, federal officials told Border Report on Thursday.

Think-tanks such as the Washington Office for Latin America concur that gang violence, COVID-19 exacerbated unemployment and poverty as well as recent natural disasters such as two hurricanes that struck Honduras in late 2020 are forcing people to flee north.

Graphic courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection

“As it always has, the number of individuals crossing the border continues to fluctuate and we continue to adapt accordingly,” the agency said in a statement.

In months to come, some of those children could be taken to a new facility under remodeling in El Paso where the Sun Ridge care center for Alzheimer’s patients used to be. The 104-bed shelter will house girls ages 12 to 17 while they wait to be placed with family members or an approved sponsor in the United States, a spokeswoman for San Antonio-based BCFS Health and Human Services.

“Immediately upon arrival, youth are given a full medical assessment at the on-site clinic. The facility will follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and every (new arrival) will be placed in a 14-day quarantine,” the spokeswoman said. The girls will have to test negative for COVID-19 before being released out of the shelter.

Building owner David Bingham is responsible for the costs related to repurposing the facility, BCSF said.

The BCSF shelter might be hiring up to 200 employees, though the company website is currently only advertising jobs for program director, case managers, clinicians and custodial workers.

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