There Are Now More Than 14,000 Immigrant Kids in Federal Custody—a New Record

And it’s likely to get worse.

Immigrants walk into a building at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.Charles Reed/US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The number of immigrant children in federal custody has reached an all-time high, with more than 14,000 children currently being held in government facilities, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported Friday. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the children, confirmed the figures to both the Chronicle and The Hill.

The numbers are also likely to rise, as children are staying in the government facilities even longer. While many of the kids are waiting to be released to “sponsors,” or family members who will take them in, many potential sponsors have been discouraged by a new policy that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run background checks on them. Dozens of immigrants have been arrested by ICE officials while attempting to come forward as sponsors. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) co-sponsored a bill earlier this week that would discourage this practice. “Unaccompanied children are being held in detention facilities or living in tent cities due in part to potential sponsors’ fear of retribution from ICE for coming forward,” Harris said. “This is an unacceptable obstacle to getting these children into a safe home, and we must fix it.”

At a hearing on Thursday, ICE acting director Ronald Vitiello confirmed that the Trump administration is currently considering another family separation policy called “binary choice.” Parents would have the option of either being detained with their child, or having their children released while remaining detained themselves. 

This post has been updated.