Surge in migrant children, family units straining Border Patrol resources

Border Report Tour

“Our priority is to process and expel them,” BP Chief says of migrants flown to El Paso from South Texas

A migrant girl jumps to cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, state of Texas, US, From Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico on February 5, 2021. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A sharp increase in arrivals of unescorted migrant children and families is beginning to strain Border Patrol capacity, El Paso Sector Chief Gloria Chavez says.

Border Patrol encounters with unaccompanied minors shot up 96% in February from the previous month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection can’t expel those children, so they must be held at Border Patrol facilities, some already at overcapacity.

“The recent surge of unaccompanied children, in addition to family units, is beginning to impact our capacity,” Chavez said. “We are working closely with Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement for the placement of children as CBP’s ability to move them out of its care is directly tied to available space at HHS/ORR.”

Adding to processing capacity issues is a recent policy to bring to El Paso up to 270 migrants per day from South Texas, where the situation is even more dire given shortcomings in migrant care on the Mexican side.

While the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, appears reluctant to receive third-country families with small children expelled from the U.S. under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health rule, the state of Chihuahua across the border from El Paso remains accommodating. Title 42 allows CBP to expel newly arrived unauthorized migrants as soon as possible to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19.

“Our priority is to process them and expel them into Mexico under Title 42.”

El Paso Sector Chief Gloria Chavez

“Since March 8, the El Paso Sector has been receiving a fluctuating number of family units daily from the South Texas region,” Chavez said. “Our priority is to process them and expel them into Mexico under Title 42. However, we work very closely with the Government of Mexico and they also have capacity issues to consider. Therefore, only a limited amount of families from the region and from South Texas can be expelled to Juarez daily in coordination with Mexico Immigration officials.”

U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Gloria Chavez (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Chihuahua runs a Migrant Assistance Center just across the Paso del Norte U.S. port of entry which serves as an information clearinghouse for migrants. The federal government runs one main shelter that’s become a staging ground for returning asylum-seekers previously placed on the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. Faith-based groups run about a dozen shelters throughout Juarez where Central Americans, Cubans and other international citizens have been staying, some for up to two years.

In El Paso, several nonprofits provide direct legal aid to migrants and support Annunciation House, which operates a network of shelters.

The spike in migration and the transfers from South Texas “has prompted us to coordinate with local El Paso city and county officials and NGOs to coordinate the release of families from the South Texas region to our local (nonprofit) shelter network,” Chavez said.

She said her agency is “very fortunate” that diverse groups are working together across borders in her community to balance the need to protect national security and public health while looking after the well-being of Border Patrol agents and migrants in custody.

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