Elmer Maldonado spent a week in immigration custody with his 1-year-old son after crossing the Rio Grande through Texas to request asylum. One night, the Honduran father and son slept on the dirt under a bridge shivering from the cold temperatures at an intake site where large groups of migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol officers.

His experience illustrates a cycle that is repeating itself thousands of times a week amid a dramatic rise in migrant children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border: They arrive in the middle of the night by the dozens and are kept at outdoor intake sites, then taken to overcrowded detention facilities well past the 72-hour court-imposed limit. From there, the families are either released into the U.S. or expelled to Mexico, the lucky ones dropped off at a COVID-19 testing site with documents. Children traveling without their parents go to federal shelters that are also quickly filling up

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