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'Sickening, Shameful, Heartless': With Trump Policies Sowing Fear Across Immigrant Communities, Number of Children in Detention Explodes to Record Levels

Thanks to Trump's crackdown, fewer immigrant families are coming forward to sponsor children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border—leaving more than 12,000 minors in U.S. government custody

A woman sits with her son at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, shortly after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Immigrant rights advocates and lawmakers are demanding the Trump administration address the ongoing crisis caused by its rampant detention of children, after it was reported Wednesday that the number of minors being held in U.S. government custody is at its highest ever recorded—with President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration policies to blame.

According to data obtained by the New York Times, 12,800 children were being detained in immigrant detention facilities as of this month—five times as many as the 2,400 who were in government custody in the spring of 2017.

The Trump administration has claimed that the exploding level of detentions is owed to record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border—but border crossings have in fact been declining for years.

Instead, the Times reported, a key reason behind the overflowing child detention centers is families' reluctance to come forward to sponsor the children there, thanks to the president's multi-pronged crackdown on immigration.

Most of the detained children entered the country without parents or guardians—with many planning to join family members who could sponsor them once they arrive.

But many family members—reportedly over fears over being detained or deported themselves—have increasingly declined to claim the children.

"Traditionally, most sponsors have been undocumented themselves, and therefore are wary of risking deportation by stepping forward to claim sponsorship of a child," wrote Caitlin Dickerson at the Times. "Even those who are willing to become sponsors have had to wait months to be fingerprinted and otherwise reviewed" because of new requirements imposed by the administration.

In addition to the family separation policy that continues to provoke international outrage, Trump's immigration agenda has included aggressive raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which have terrorized Latino communities across the country; entrapment of undocumented immigrants eligible for green cards; the deportations of hundreds of parents who were reportedly falsely told that if they signed so-called "voluntary departure orders" they would be reunited with their children; and most recently, Trump's plan to expedite even more deportations by paying Mexico $20 million so 17,000 people can be sent there. 

Rather than improve its policies affecting immigrant communities, the Trump administration has signaled that it will simply make it possible for even more children to be detained in the country's immigration detention facilities, which are now nearly at capacity.

This week, the president announced that a so-called "tent city," or prison camp, in the border town of Tornillo, Texas, will be tripled in size, allowing for the detention of 3,800 minors.

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