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Reports: Number of unaccompanied migrant children held at border triples in 2 weeks

About 1,400 children have been detained for more than the 72 hours allowed by law before they must be transferred to shelters, according to reports.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children being detained along the southern U.S. border has reached more than 3,200, according to two media reports. That's triple what it was two weeks ago, the New York Times reports.

Nearly 170 of those children are younger than age 13, NBC News reports.

About 1,400 children have been detained for more than the 72 hours which is allowed by law, before they must be transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Times and NBC News report. Delays by HHS in picking up the children is reportedly contributing to the growing problem.

The facilities are built for adults. NBC News reports they are "typically small concrete rooms with concrete or metal benches and no beds." 

The Times reports there were already more than 8,100 unaccompanied children at HHS shelters as of Sunday. There was only enough space for 838 more.

The Biden administration last week instructed long-term facilities that hold immigrant children to lift capacity restrictions enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.

A memo issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells service providers to “temporarily increase capacity to full licensed capacity ... while implementing and adhering to strict COVID-19 mitigation measures.” It's not immediately clear how many beds will come available beyond the roughly 7,000 that were online last month. HHS' fully licensed capacity was over 13,000 beds late last year.

Some facilities have reduced their capacity by as much as half during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, hundreds of children waiting to be placed in HHS' system are being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in tent facilities or large, cold cells unequipped to hold minors. Images and stories of packed Border Patrol cells in 2018 and 2019 sparked outrage, with accounts of families and young children fending for themselves without adequate food and water.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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