Record 3,200 migrant children stuck in Border Patrol custody, with nearly half held past legal limit

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More than 3,200 migrant children were stuck in Border Patrol facilities on Monday, with nearly half held beyond a three-day legal limit, as the Biden administration struggles to respond to the sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to government documents obtained by CBS News, nearly 1,400 unaccompanied minors had been held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holding facilities for more three days as of Monday, despite the agency’s legal obligation to transfer these children to shelters operated by the U.S. refugee agency within 72 hours of taking them into custody.

Nearly 170 unaccompanied children stuck in Border Patrol custody are under the age of 13, according to CBP documents.

On February 21, CBP held just nine unaccompanied children past the three-day limit, according to one document, underscoring how the dwindling bed space at the refugee agency’s shelters has created a massive backlog of minors waiting in facilities that were largely designed to briefly detain adult men.


As of Monday, the refugee office had only about 500 beds available near the southern border for the increasing number of migrant children entering U.S custody, according to a document from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the refugee agency.

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A former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said the current number of children in Border Patrol custody is the highest in the agency’s history.

The refugee office is currently housing more than 8,100 unaccompanied children as it works to expand its bed capacity, which had been restricted during the pandemic to implement social distancing. 

The documents obtained by CBS News illustrate the escalating humanitarian, logistical and political challenges President Biden is facing at the U.S.-Mexico early on in his presidency.

More than 7,000 unaccompanied migrant children were transferred to U.S. refugee agency shelters last month — a record high for a February, as CBS News reported over the weekend. According to the internal documents, the refugee office received 440 migrant minors in one day alone this week.

Representatives for HHS and DHS did not respond to requests for comment on the documents obtained by CBS News. 

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