Groton shelter sees increase in migrant children

Members of the migrant caravan on the road from Pijijiapan to Arriaga, Mexico on Friday. The 60 mile trek was one of the longest legs of the journey undertaken by the caravan and many of the caravan members said they were exhausted from the hours of walking in the hot sun.

GROTON — A 12-bed shelter in Groton that houses migrant children on behalf of the U.S. government has been at or near capacity most of this year, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

Noank Community Support Services, a nonprofit that contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, went weeks with as few as three migrant children in its custody last year but has had 11 or 12 nearly every week for the last several months.

Nationally, the federal government has 14,300 migrant children and teenagers in its care, up from 2,720 in early 2017. Most are held in much larger facilities with hundreds or thousands of other children. Trump administration officials say increased need has driven them to vastly expand the number of beds available for migrant children.

This summer, the contractor in Groton housed two children from Central America who had been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, but it said none of the youths currently in its custody were taken from their families.

“We have unaccompanied minors that are teenagers and none were separated from parents,” said Regina Moller, director of Noank Community Support Services.

The shelter says it provides a family-like environment for up to 12 children while it looks for sponsors, typically family members living in the U.S., who can take them — a process that typically takes four to six weeks. It says the teens in its custody left their home countries unaccompanied by their parents to escape severe threats and violence.

The contractor has received more than $1.2 million in grants over the last year through the program to care for the young immigrants. Nationally, the Office of Refugee and Resettlement spent over $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2018 on service providers for unaccompanied migrant children.

The two children who had been separated from their families at the border and sent to the shelter — a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador and a 9-year-old boy from Honduras — were reunited with their parents in July after a federal judge ruled that separating them from their parents was unconstitutional. The government brought the children’s parents from Texas to Connecticut after granting them parole during deportation proceedings.

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