In its battle against illegal immigration, the US is facing a new challenge: The past eight months have seen some 50,000 unaccompanied kids held in attempts to migrate to the US, almost doubling figures from the last fiscal year, NPR reports. "Before, we were seeing great numbers of families—mother, father, abuelito, the little kids. Everybody was coming as a family and entering our country," says Sister Norma Pimentel, who has worked for decades in the Rio Grande Valley, a key migration area. "Here, it's unaccompanied children. It's amazing. So many children."
The children believe they can get asylum by citing the danger of gangs in their homelands, NPR notes. Many are from countries not contiguous with the US, and immediate deportation isn't an option. As the US figures out what to do with the children, they are held in detention centers; the Arizona Republic had the opportunity to view one. The kids stay behind "18-foot-high chain-link fences topped with razor wire," writes Michael Kiefer. Officials appear to treat the children with compassion, he notes; still, the Nogales facility, which holds 900 children, is essentially a "juvenile prison camp." The kids stay in the cramped quarters before being moved to other facilities. By the end of the year, US officials think they will have apprehended 90,000 children, the Arizona Republic reports.