U.S. races to find bed space for migrant children as number of unaccompanied minors in government custody hits 15,500

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The U.S. government on Saturday was housing approximately 15,500 unaccompanied migrant minors, including 5,000 teenagers and children stranded in Border Patrol facilities not designed for long-term custody, according to government data reviewed by CBS News.

As of Saturday morning, more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors were being held in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tent holding facility in south Texas and other stations along the border with Mexico. According to the government records, unaccompanied children are spending an average of 136 hours in CBP custody, well beyond the 72-hour limit outlined in U.S. law. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was also housing nearly 10,500 unaccompanied children in emergency housing facilities and shelters licensed by states to care for minors, department spokesperson Mark Weber told CBS News on Saturday.

More than 9,400 unaccompanied minors entered U.S. border custody last month, a record-high for a February. That number is expected to be eclipsed by the figure for March, as border officials have encountered an average of more than 500 unaccompanied minors per day in the past 21 days, according to the government data.

The refugee agency within HHS is charged with housing most unaccompanied minors until it can place them with family members or other sponsors in the U.S. Because of the high numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border and the limited bed space in its state-licensed shelters, the U.S. refugee agency has been forced to open makeshift housing facilities to get children out of Border Patrol custody.

Migrant Children Immigration
Migrant children and teenagers from the southern border of the United States relax in the sun outside of their housing units at a temporary holding facility south of Midland, Texas.

Eli Hartman / AP

On Saturday, HHS notified Congress that it would be opening a new influx facility in Pecos, Texas, that is initially expected to house approximately 500 unaccompanied children, according to a notice obtained by CBS News. HHS said the installation, a former housing facility for oil workers, could be expanded in the future to house up to 2,000 minors.

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