TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Since January, the U.S. government has ordered 13,000 migrants under 18, including more than 400 infants, to wait with their families in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings, a Reuters analysis of government data found.
Along the U.S.-Mexico border, babies and toddlers are living in high-crime cities – often in crowded shelters and tents or on the streets – for the weeks or months it takes to get a U.S. asylum hearing.
The risk of violence and illness runs high and is of particular concern for families with young children or those with chronic health conditions, according to interviews with health professionals, migrants, aid workers and advocates.
The children, whose numbers have not been previously reported, are among tens of thousands of migrants returned to Mexico under a Trump administration policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Most are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
U.S. immigration officials did not respond to requests for comment on Reuters’ data findings.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, decisions about whether a person is placed in MPP are made by border agents on a case-by-case basis and include consultation with medical professionals. Unaccompanied minors should not be sent back to Mexico, according to the program guidelines, but children can be sent back with their parents.