Nightly News   |  July 03, 2012

Kids cross border alone, fleeing drugs and gangs

More than 8,000 unaccompanied migrant youths – mostly from Central America -- have been taken into custody this year, double the number taken into custody at this time last year. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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>>> it's not surprising, every year several hundred thousand immigrants cross into the u.s. illegally. what is surprising is the growing number of kids crossing the border alone. most fleeing troubled lives, putting new stresses on government and social service agencies here trying to help them. nbc's mark potter reports.

>> reporter: in texas, two months ago police found hundreds of immigrants stashed in houses.

>> they were being treated like animals, they were locked in.

>> reporter: immigrants lost, exhausted and thirsty, including two girls, ages 10 and 13.

>> they probably didn't really understand how close they were to being statistics and being dead .

>> reporter: federal authorities say the number of children detained after illegally entering the u.s. without their parents is skyrocketing. more than 8,000 migrant children have been taken into custody this year compared to 4,000 last year. most are teenaged buys from central america , where they are fleeing drug and gang violence .

>> it can turn into a very abusive situation.

>> reporter: the dramatic rise of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the u.s. is putting a lot of stress on the federal agencies once they're detained. they are required to house the children until guardians are found. legal aide groups are trying to find enough lawyers to help.

>> we need to remember to treat these children as kids first and immigrants second.

>> reporter: she endured a grueling six-week trek to the u.s., where she was held in a government shelter until relatives were found in boston. can you tell me about the trip you made to come to this country? is there anything you want to tell me about it.

>> i can't.

>> reporter: is it tough to talk about that?

>> yeah.

>> reporter: both u.s. customs and the department of health and human services declined on camera interviews to discuss the issue many customs said child immigration numbers are cyclical as more children this year make the perilous journey to the united states alone. mark potter , nbc news, hidalgo, texas.