The number of immigrant children being held in U.S. government custody has reached almost 15,000, putting federally contracted shelters across the U.S. at near capacity. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the network of shelters is 92 percent full.
The largest migrant youth shelter is in the remote west Texas town of Tornillo. Around 2,800 children live in tents set up on a patch of desert a few hundred yards from the Rio Grande. According to reports, the shelter is taking in roughly twice as many kids every week as it is able to release.
The government is considering options to expand the shelter network or release children more quickly to sponsors in the United States. The U.S. government could add more beds at Tornillo or elsewhere. Or it could release the minors more quickly to sponsors who agree to take the children usually family members who live in the U.S. while their asylum case is pending.
The government screening process has slowed because of a new policy that anyone who lives in the sponsor’s house can be fingerprinted for a criminal background check. When implementing the policy earlier this year, officials said they are taking these precautions to ensure children aren’t put in danger.
Recently Health and Human Services identified “significant vulnerabilities” at the Tornillo facility. The contractor had not conducted FBI fingerprint background checks on its 2,000 staff, and the facility lacked enough mental health clinicians for the number of children.