As images of immigrant children held at shelters made their way across news publications and social media posts, a lingering question loomed large: Where are the girls?
"Of the 11,786 minors currently in the unaccompanied alien children program, 3,280 of them are female," Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for Health and Human Services (HHS), stated in an email to el Nuevo Herald Tuesday evening.
Wolfe also confirmed that 391 teenage girls are being held at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, where three Florida lawmakers — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and state Rep. Kionne McGhee — were denied entry earlier Tuesday. The other 801 minors housed at the shelter are teenage boys, bringing the total number of minors at the Homestead facility to 1,192, Wolfe noted.
Asked how female unaccompanied minors cases were handled, Wolfe said: "The sponsorship and release procedure is identical to that of boys."
Little more is publicly known about where the girls are being placed as part of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, which went into effect in April. The policy mandates that adults who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally be held for criminal prosecution.
Children traveling with parents — as well as those who cross on their own — are now separated from their parents and sent to detention centers or placed with relatives or sponsors in the United States. Before April, Border Patrol agents could use discretion in deciding each case; parents with children were not separated.
Information about where the girls are being held has been sparse.
On Tuesday morning, officials from the Department of Homeland Security and HHS told reporters on a conference call they are working on getting "government resources" to obtain and release images of girls and toddlers being held at shelters.
Officials said that many of the children placed in government custody after entering illegally into the United States are transferred to HHS after 72 hours, The Dallas Morning News reported.
More than 2,300 children have been separated from parents from May 5 to June 9, officials said. And how many children have been reunited with their parents under the zero-tolerance policy? That answer remains unclear.
“This policy is relatively new," an HHS official, Steven Wagner, told reporters. "We’re still working through the experience of reunifying parents with their kids after adjudication.”