Mon | Feb 24, 2020

US held record number of migrant kids in custody in 2019

Published:Tuesday | November 12, 2019 | 9:26 AM
In this September 24, 2019 photo, girls eat lunch at a shelter for migrant teenage girls, in Lake Worth, Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

COMAYAGUA, Honduras (AP) — The 3-year-old girl travelled for weeks cradled in her father’s arms, as he set out to seek asylum in the United States.

Now she won’t even look at him.

After being forcibly separated at the border by government officials, sexually abused in US foster care and deported, the once bright and beaming girl arrived back in Honduras withdrawn, anxious and angry, convinced her father abandoned her.

He fears their bond is forever broken.

“I think about this trauma staying with her too, because the trauma has remained with me and still hasn’t faded,” he said, days after their reunion.

This month new government data shows the little girl is one of an unprecedented 69,550 migrant children held in US government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to overflow the typical NFL stadium.

That’s more kids detained away from their parents than any other country, according to United Nations researchers.

And it’s happening even though the US government has acknowledged that being held in detention can be traumatic for children, putting them at risk of long-term physical and emotional damage.

Some of these migrant children who were in government custody this year have already been deported. Some have reunited with family in the U.S., where they’re trying to go to school and piece back together their lives.

About 4,000 are still in government custody, some in large, impersonal shelters. And more arrive every week.

The story is part of an ongoing joint investigation between The Associated Press and the PBS series FRONTLINE on the treatment of migrant children, which includes the film “Kids Caught in the Crackdown” premiering on PBS and online November 12 at 10:00 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST.

We want to hear from you! Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169, email us at or