Migrant parents have said they have no idea where their children have gone after crossing the border into America, as some are about to be housed as far away as Michigan due to the overwhelming number of arrivals.
Moms and dads already settled in the US are being forced to deal with the agonizing weeks-long wait to hear any news of their children’s whereabouts or wellbeing as the federal government struggles to cope with the influx of migrants crossing the border from Mexico into the US in recent months.
Last month, almost 19,000 children made the journey alone, marking the highest monthly total in all of American history.
Seven hotels in Texas and Arizona have already been contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to act as overflow facilities to help house children and families and the federal government is now also turning to facilities in Michigan and California for help.
Several parents told the New York Times their unaccompanied children had gone for weeks without being able to contact their parents or family members since entering US custody.
One concerned mother, Maria Ana Mendez, told how she moved from Honduras to upstate New York a decade ago, with her daughter Cindy set to join her now she is settled with a job and a home.
Mendez said she had paid a guide $8,000 to bring Cindy into America as she herself is still undocumented, meaning she was unable to sponsor her daughter.
Cindy contacted her three weeks later, telling her she had crossed the Rio Grande on a raft and was being held in the temporary migrant facility in Donna, Texas, her mom said.
She told the Times her daughter said she was feeling unwell after being forced to sleep on the ground and not being able to shower for days.
Mendez said she then grew increasingly concerned for her daughter’s welfare as she heard no word from her for several weeks.
The concerned mom repeatedly called a US government hotline to try to find out information about her daughter before sending a letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement with the help of an immigration lawyer.
‘I have no idea where my daughter is. No one is telling me anything at all,’ she told the Times on March 26.
Mendez finally received a phone call from Cindy on April 3, saying she had contracted COVID-19 and moved to a hospital in San Diego.
‘How could they leave her alone in the hospital and not advise me?’ Mendez said.
Mendez flew out to San Diego and the mother and daughter were reunited soon after.
Another mother told the Times she was also anxiously waiting to hear news of her two young children, aged 6 and 9, after they were separated from an adult family member at the border in March.
And, in Iowa City, a woman said was ‘very worried’ about her 16-year-old sister who crossed the border back on March 4.
Juana Cuyuch Brito said she had completed paperwork to reunite with her sibling but recently found out the teen had been moved to Pennsylvania.
‘I am very worried about her. I don’t know why they transferred her or what is going on,’ she told the outlet.
Around half the unaccompanied children crossing the border into the US are said to be coming to reunite with parents or family members already living in the US.
They have often been raised by other relatives in their home countries while their parents found work and set up new lives in America.
But the sheer volume of children and families crossing in the months since Joe Biden took office has led to a bottleneck at custody centers with migrants penned in to facilities that are operating at up to 1,700 percent of their legal capacity.
A Michigan nonprofit announced Friday that it will take in up to 240 unaccompanied migrant children after it received an urgent request from the federal government.
Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit specializing in residential programs and child behavioral health programs, said it is opening its Albion campus for children aged 12 and under.
The children will stay in the facility’s 17 cottages until they can be reunited with family members.
The site is equipped with a gym, cafeteria and school buildings and will be cared for by bilingual caregivers with child welfare experience.
Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey said in a statement that it was offering a ‘refuge’ for the children.
‘For more than a century, our campus has served as a safe haven for children in need,’ said Carey.
‘We have again been called to open our hearts and our campus as a refuge – this time to children arriving without parents or guardians at our southern border.
Emergency shelters have also been set up in convention centers in San Diego with another California site in Long Beach expected to start taking in children soon.
This week it emerged the ICE had reached deals with seven hotels in Texas and Arizona to house migrant families.
ICE said it had the $86.9 million contract with Endeavors Inc. will provide about 1,200 hotel beds for families to stay up to around 72 hours while being processed.
Around 600 migrants headed to four properties from Friday, with another 600 slated to move into three additional properties starting April 30.
After taking office, Biden lifted the Remain in Mexico policy, which kept migrants south of the border while waiting for their hearings, effectively allowing migrants who have applied for asylum to cross into the US and begin legal proceedings.
He also narrowed the ICE’s criteria for arrests and deportations and stopped the building of Trump’s border wall.
These moves have led to thousands of migrants entering America leaving the border’s children’s centers so full that kids are being forced to spend several days in cramped detention centers meant for adults and sparking a backlog and logistical nightmare in processing the new entrants.
The Biden administration has been slammed for its handling of the issue as officials for weeks refused to admit it had reached crisis levels and repeatedly denied the media access to facilities.
Biden has now put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the crisis but she has faced increasing criticism for not yet visiting the border 17 days into her being assigned responsibility.
Biden is also yet to visit the border.
Data released Thursday showed apprehensions of undocumented migrants on the US border with Mexico soared 70 percent in March to 172,331 – the highest level in 15 years.
Border agents reported that the number of unaccompanied children detained doubled in March from February to 18,890.
Around 16,500 are being housed in Department of Health and Human Services facilities while the other roughly 4,000 are stuck in CBP centers.
The number of migrants showing up as part of families with small children jumped from under 20,000 in February to more than 53,000 in March.