Mid-September, 2023

NBC News, The Hill, and CBS News covered a September 15, 2023 report from a court-appointed juvenile care monitor, who found that CBP continues to separate migrant children from family members while they are in the agency’s custody.

A pediatrician associated with Stanford University, Dr, Paul Wise, interviewed families at a Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas in August 2023, finding that many children, some as young as 8 years old, were separated from their parents for up to 4 days.

The Flores Settlement Agreement, which dates from 1997, mandates that “minors may not be held in immigration detention for more than 72 hours in most cases”. Wise’s report counted 737 minors who traveled as part of family units at Donna in July. Of these, 697 were held between three to five days, 39 were held for longer than 5 days, and 15 were held for more than 14 days.

Reports have shown that minors traveling as part of family units are detained alone more often, and for longer periods of time, than unaccompanied minors.

While Dr. Wise found that Border Patrol was providing basic necessities to the children in custody, some children were receiving adult meals and some families were not being provided sleeping mats. 

CBP blames a large volume of migrants requiring processing, resulting in overcrowding in CBP “pods,” or groups in which children are placed. When pods are overcrowded, CBP makes an assessment of a child’s age and gender and places them in a pod of children with similar backgrounds, which may involve temporary separations from parents.

In his 71-page report, Dr. Wise noted these separations could affect children’s mental health. After interviewing some of the children, he reported “significant emotional distress related to separation, including sustained crying and disorientation.” This largely arose from their inability to communicate with their parents. In many cases, he noted, both the children and their detention caretakers in the facility were unaware of their visitation rights, which grants families the right to request to see each other while in custody.

While these separations have not been permanent, Dr. Wise’s report reveals that even temporary separations have caused emotional distress.

—Wise, Paul H. “Notice of Filing of Juvenile Care Monitor Report by Dr. Paul H. Wise.” California: United States District Court Central District of California, September 15, 2023. https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cacd.45170/gov.uscourts.cacd.45170.1360.0.pdf.

—Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. “U.S. Border Agents Are Separating Migrant Children from Their Parents to Avoid Overcrowding, Inspector Finds – CBS News.” CBS News, September 16, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/migrant-children-separated-parents-u-s-border-agents-overcrowding/.

—Bernal, Rafael. “Children Separated at US-Mexico Border Had ‘No Interaction’ with Their Parents: Report.” Text. The Hill, September 18, 2023. https://thehill.com/latino/4210694-children-separated-at-us-mexico-border-had-no-interaction-with-their-parents-report/.

—Ainsley, Julia. “Border Patrol Temporarily Separated Families This Summer, Court Filing Says.” NBC News, September 18, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/border-patrol-temporarily-separated-families-summer-court-filing-says-rcna105524.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Family Separation

Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit