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Hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children are crossing into America every day, stretching the capacity at border facilities to breaking point, leaked government documents show.
In what is quickly becoming a crisis on the Southern border, children are arriving at levels beyond the Health and Human Services Department's ability to house them, with an average of 321 children crossing by themselves every day in the week ending March 1.
Documents obtained by Axios show that the shelter system is at 94 per cent occupancy and is expected to reach its maximum capacity this month.
The numbers have jumped significantly since the start of the year, particularly after Joe Biden relaxed the tough immigration restrictions imposed by Donald Trump.
During the Trump administration the vast majority of migrants, including children, were returned to Mexico, while one of his most controversial policies saw parents who crossed illegally arrested and forcibly separated from their sons and daughters. Now, they are allowed to stay and have their claims processed in the US.
In the first week of January, before Mr Biden’s inauguration, an average of 47 unaccompanied children made the illegal crossing each day. By early February it was 203 per day, and now it is more than 300.
The average time spent in Border Patrol facilities, which are not designed to hold children, has increased too.
US law states it should be no longer than 72 hours, but CNN reported that children are spending an average of 77 hours at the centres before being moved onto permanent local shelters.
"It is a stressful challenge. That's why, quite frankly, we're working as hard as we are, not only in addressing the urgency of the challenge but also in building the capacity to manage it," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the White House on Monday.
The situation is expected to worsen, with projections by the Department of Homeland Security estimating that there will be 117,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossing the border this year.
Carrizo Springs, which can hold 700 people, received its first cohort of 13-17 year-olds last Monday.
Lawyers, activists and politicians have expressed their concerns about the living conditions at the site, which costs the Government an estimated $775 per child per day to run.
“It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do,” Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer told the Washington Post.
“It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.”
Prominent Democrats say the whole immigration system needs to be reshaped.
“Our immigration system is built on a carceral framework,” said Congresswoman AlexandriaOcasio-Cortez.
“It’s no accident that challenging how we approach both these issues are considered “controversial” stances.
“They require reimagining our relationship to each other and challenging common assumptions we take for granted.”
Elsewhere, 13 people killed in one of the deadliest border crashes on record were among more than 40 migrants who entered the U.S. through a hole cut into Southern California's border fence with Mexico, officials said on Wednesday.
The breach occurred in a busy area for illegal crossings near the Imperial Sand Dunes where migrants often climb over an aging barrier and wait for drivers to pick them up, hoping to avoid scrutiny of Border Patrol agents at checkpoints on highways leading to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.
"Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life," said Gergory Bovino, Border Patrol's El Centro sector chief.
"Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy, tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with."