Unaccompanied migrant children now spend an average of around 24 hours in Border Patrol custody, a Biden administration official said Thursday, down from the more than 100 hours that CNN reported in March.
US law permits children to remain in these jail-like border facilities for only 72 hours before being transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Another official said it is a sign that the Biden administration’s efforts have led to a “dramatic turnaround” for the situation of unaccompanied children at the border. The Biden administration officials spoke on background with reporters during a virtual news conference.
Administration officials also touted progress on reducing the number of children in Customs and Border Protection custody, which has dropped from a high of more than 5,500 at the end of March to between 600 and 750 currently, depending on the day, the first official said.
On Wednesday, there were 749 children in CBP custody, according to the latest federal government data.
HHS has also reduced the time it takes to reunify children with sponsors, from about 42 days to 30 days on average, another official said.
To reduce the time, HHS implemented virtual case management, trained additional case managers and updated policies to expedite the release of children to their verified parents or legal guardians.
Despite the progress made in reducing the time children spend in government custody, border encounters remained elevated in the last month.
“April data is going to be published soon. But we do continue to see large flows of migrants at our southern border,” another official said.
Officials also provided an update on the reunifications of families separated at the border under the Trump administration, which were announced by the Department of Homeland Security on Monday and were expected to take place this week.
Three of four families have been reunified so far, including mothers from Honduras and Mexico, according to the administration officials.
These are the first families separated under the Trump administration to be reunited under the Biden administration, but hundreds of families still remain separated.
One woman, who was separated from her children in late 2017 after fleeing Honduras with them, was reunited with them on Tuesday, an administration official said. Another woman, from Mexico, who was separated from her son in late 2017 was also reunited with her child on Tuesday, the official said.
The other families being reunited this week are from Guatemala. One was reunited Wednesday and the “other one is still in process,” the official said, adding, “but this is only the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do.”