When asked about a visit to a Texas processing center earlier this month by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who told the media that she had seen an unaccompanied three-year-old among the children housed there, the spokesman said that although he did not have knowledge of a specific child that age, he would not be “surprised” if three-, four- and five-year-olds were in that population.
“It is an unfortunate situation that these children are exposed to, but we do our best to care for the children when they are in our custody," the spokesman told CNSNews.com. "These children are a top priority for the United States Border Patrol, especially children who are of a tender age."
When asked how children this young can be "unaccompanied," the spokesman said that children could be brought to the border by non-relatives or by someone who does not have legal guardianship, resulting in the child having that status.
According to the CBP, in fiscal year 2014 so far 57,525 unaccompanied alien children have been taken into custody, with 12,614 of those coming from Mexico and the remainder from Central America.
Jackson Lee visited a processing center in McAllen, Texas, on July 3 and sent out a press release following that visit.
“We saw an unaccompanied 3-year-old child who had been in CBP custody for days and days,” the press release said. “Despite Border Patrol’s best efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services had not yet taken custody of the little girl.
“So the older girls in CBP custody with her were keeping watch over the child, passing her care to others as they were transferred elsewhere,” the press release said. “This is unconscionable.”
CNSNews.com contacted Jackson Lee’s staff to get more specific details about the child, but staff did not provide any additional information.
According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s 2012 Report to Congress – ORR is the arm of the U.S. Health and Human Services that handles the cases of unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries – 17 three-year-old unaccompanied children were in the custody of ORR or 0.12 percent of the children handled in fiscal year 2012. (See page 73)
The report from ORR, which is responsible for placing these children with family, in foster care or in other care facilities while their deportation cases proceed, showed that in fiscal year 2012 the number of two-years-olds served was 10 or 0.7 percent. There were 12 one-year-olds or 0.8 percent and 44 children under the age of one or 0.30 percent.
The report also showed that of the 14,721 children handled by ORR, 77 percent were male, 23 percent were female and 14 percent were under the age of 14.
The report said the countries of origin for most of these children were located in Central America - 34 percent from Guatemala, 27 percent from El Salvador, 27 percent from Honduras, eight percent from Mexico, 2 percent from Ecuador and 2 percent “other.”