(NewsNation) — This week, a 4-year-old boy entered the U.S. in the arms of a woman — not his mother, but a stranger who found him alone on the Mexico side of the southern border, shoeless and drenched in water.
A makeshift ID hung around his neck: Jose Luis. He was traveling with his mother, Roxana, but the pair became separated.
“They already deported me from immigration,” the boy’s mother later told NewsNation. “I was going with a group, but then they grabbed me on this side and sent me back.”
It’s a sight that has become increasingly common along the nation’s southwest border.
Officials encountered nearly 11,000 unaccompanied minors at the nation’s southwest border in February — 16% more than in the previous month.
Still, the number of single children encountered at the southwest border during fiscal year 2023 is on par with the same five-month period in 2022. That year saw a record 152,057 unaccompanied minors at the border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is required to provide care for unaccompanied children who are encountered at the border.
Nearly 133,000 migrant children entered the U.S. government shelter system in fiscal year 2022, according to federal numbers obtained by CBS in October. That’s also a record number, surpassing the previous year’s 122,000.
As of mid-December, 10,775 unaccompanied migrant children remained in government care, with about a 28-day average length of stay, according to DHHS.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported more than 100 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Guatemala, were found inside an abandoned trailer in eastern Mexico.
Another 212 adults from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador, and 28 family members from Guatemala and El Salvador, were also found in the trailer, Reuters reported, citing the National Migration Institute.
Guatemalans represent the largest share of unaccompanied minors, accounting for 39% of encounters, according to CBP.
The Rio Grande Valley Sector in particular sees the most unaccompanied children, about 40% of encounters this year to date.