HHS Says Small Number of Immigrant Children Age 13 and Under in Its Care

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Though the potential separation of very young children from their parents as a result of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” border policy has drawn concern across the country, new data released by the government show very few such children have been impacted.

As of this week, the Department of Health and Human Services had more than 11,600 migrant children in its care — roughly 80 percent of whom are children who came to the US by themselves.

But of that total, a much smaller number were under the age of 13, or what is referred to as “tender age” children, and even fewer still were under five.

Since the initiative to prosecute all adults crossing the border illegally — including those with children — went into effect, only 36 children under age five have entered HHS care — and not all of those were necessarily separated from adults with them because of the policy.

As a result of the zero-tolerance policy, parents were sent to the Department of Justice to face charges. As children can’t follow their parents into jails, they were designated in the same way as unaccompanied migrant children, or those who come to the US by themselves, and thus turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for such children.

Almost 80 percent of those children in the department’s care were teenagers, according to the figures provided by a HHS spokesman. Out of the total population, 2,458 children under age 13 were in HHS custody, of which 482 were aged 5 years or younger.

But a much smaller number of those children would have come into HHS custody since May 6, when the prosecution policy was made public. While not all of these children may still be in HHS care, the agency received 1,045 children under the age of 13 years in that time frame. Of those, 36 were under the age of five and only three were under the age of 1 year old.

Customs and Border Protection has previously told CNN that it does not separate children under five from an adult except for a handful of circumstances, including concern for the child, an inability to verify guardianship or a criminal history of the parent.

There are also other circumstances that a young child may enter the country without an adult, such as a teenager bringing their younger sibling, or even their own child, that could account for some of the young children in HHS care.

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