By Kathryn Tam and Alicia A. Caldwell, The Wall Street Journal
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families, mostly from Central America, cross the Mexican border into the U.S. every year, according to Customs and Border Protection. Nearly all of the families and children are applying for asylum, a legal process that could take years because of an immigration court backlog of more than 700,000 cases.
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in response to a spike in illegal border crossings in the spring. The overall goal, the Trump administration said, was to slow the number of people crossing the border illegally.
Starting in May, the government began referring every adult who crossed the border to federal prosecutors, which has resulted in the separation of children from their adult guardians.
Before this policy was in place, most families were released into the country with instructions to report back to immigration authorities at a later date. Many of the parents were outfitted with ankle bracelets to monitor their movements. Unaccompanied migrant children were sent to the care of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Here is a look at the numbers:
1. Border Arrests
Arrests along the Mexican border have remained at lows last seen in the early 1970s. The Rio Grande Valley border sector, which includes McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, has been the busiest section of the border in recent years. But since Oct. 1 crossings have increase 17% compared with this time last year, to about 279,000 people, mostly from countries other than Mexico, according to U.S. government data obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
2. Where are they coming from?
Immigrants arrested after crossing the Mexican border are mostly coming from Central America.
3. How many are children?
The number of families and children traveling alone who have been apprehended while seeking refuge in the U.S. has fluctuated over the past few years.
Since the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy went into effect, Custom and Border Patrol Lead Field Coordinator Brian Hastings said that from May 5 to June 9, they processed 2,235 families who had traveled across the Mexican border, which resulted in the detention of 2,342 unaccompanied minors.
4. How old are the children?
There is no breakdown of ages for those held in child migrants shelters, but looking at the number of unaccompanied children who crossed the border during the 2017 fiscal year, about one in five children were 12 or under, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
5. What is the legal process?
Most of the migrants hoping to stay in the country must wait for their day in immigration court. As of the end of March, the number of cases for all people waiting for a decision reached 700,000, according to the Justice Department.
In many courts, hearings are currently being scheduled beyond 2021 before an available slot on the docket is found, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. In Houston, cases take an average of 1,751 days – or nearly five years – before their hearing is scheduled to occur.
6. What happens after?
A judge decides if the immigrant can stay in the country or must be deported. The share of deportation orders had been declining since 2011, but started rising in 2017.