U.S. Has ‘Lost’ 1,500 Immigrant Children And Now It’s Taking Children Away From Parents
The Trump Administration has lost track of nearly 1,500 children at the same time that it is implementing a new policy that will result in children who arrive at the border with their parents or other family members.
In a story that isn’t getting nearly the attention that it deserves, the Trump Administration is admitting that it has lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children who were taken into Federal custody after arriving unaccompanied at the border with Mexico:
The federal government has placed thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in the homes of sponsors, but last year it couldn’t account for nearly 1,500 of them.
Steven Wagner, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services, disclosed the number to a Senate subcommittee last month while discussing the state of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that oversees the care of unaccompanied immigrant children.
Wagner is the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. ORR is a program of the Administration for Children and Families
CNN reported earlier this month that, in his testimony, Wagner said during the last three months of 2017, the ORR lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children it had placed in the homes of sponsors.
Wagner’s statement has attracted more attention amid reports that immigrant children are being separated from their parents at the US border.
Wagner said the Department of Homeland Security referred more than 40,000 immigrant children to the ORR during the 2017 fiscal year.
After a stay in an ORR shelter, the majority of children are sent to live with sponsors who have close ties to the children — typically a parent or close relative, Wagner said, though some end up living with “other-than-close relatives or non-relatives.”
Between October and December 2017, Wagner told the subcommittee, the ORR reached out to 7,635 unaccompanied children to check on them. But the ORR “was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 children,” Wagner testified. An additional 28 had run away.
That’s more than 19% of the children that were placed by the ORR. But Wagner said HHS is not responsible for the children.
“I understand that it has been HHS’s long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care,” Wagner said.
The office is “taking a fresh look at that question,” he added. But if the ORR were to be legally responsible for the well-being of unaccompanied immigrant children, it would need a significant increase in resources.
Buzzfeed’s Salvador Hernandez has more:
The US government lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children, but officials say they are not “legally responsible” for them after they are placed in temporary homes to await the outcome of their asylum cases.
The revelation, made during a congressional hearing last month, comes as officials continue to struggle with the number of minors who make the dangerous trek into the United States, many of them seeking asylum from violence in their home countries.
It also comes amid concerns the Department of Homeland Security is looking to separate children from their parents if they are caught together while trying to cross the border as a form of deterrent.
US agencies have struggled with legal, logistical, and political questions regarding underage immigrants, as thousands of them continue to be detained at the US-Mexico border.
Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, told a subcommittee in April that officials were unable to determine what happened to 1,475 children who were placed in sponsors’ homes between October to December 2017.
Another 28 kids, Wagner told lawmakers, also ran away from the home.
The agency had been attempting to contact 7,635 minors and their sponsors, he said, as part of a routine checkup to look into their safety. More than 19% of them, however, were unaccounted for.
Mostly from Central American countries, unaccompanied child immigrants that are detained trying to cross the border are transferred from one agency to another, from US Customs and Border Protection to Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The child is then placed at the home of a sponsor, a parent, relative, or close family friend who can show ties to the child. But US officials say they are not legally responsible for children after they are placed in homes.
“I understand that it has been (Heath and Human Services’) long-standing interpretation of the law that (the Office of Refugee Resettlement) is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care,” Wagner told the committee.
More than 40,000 children were referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the 2017 fiscal year, Wagner said.
HHS has recently adopted multiple changes, including interviewing sponsors, conducting background checks, and refining the type of documents sponsors can use to reduce the possibility of fraud, to address problems, such as placing several Guatemalan minors in the hands of human traffickers.
According to a Senate investigation, HHS turned the minors over to human traffickers, who then forced many of them to work in an egg farm in Ohio for six or seven days a week. Their paychecks were withheld by the traffickers to pay off smuggling debts, according to the report.
The smugglers also threatened the children and their families so they would continue to work, investigators said. For example, one child was told his father would be shot in the head if he did not continue working, and another was placed in a trailer with no heat, bed, hot water, or toilet for complaining.
It’s important to note that the children in question here were not accompanied when they arrived at the border or were accompanied by people to whom they were not related and thus who could not be granted custody of them while in the United States. Additionally, it’s worth noting that many of these children arrived in the United States prior to the time that Donald Trump became President. Notwithstanding those facts, though, it needs to be stressed that it has been within the past year that the Federal Government has lost track of these children, that this has occurred under the watch of the President and the people who he has appointed to head the relevant agencies with jurisdiction over these children, and that the argument that the Federal Government lack any legal requirement to keep track of these children does not appear to be supported by existing law. Indeed, the entire purpose of placing these children in what are supposed to be temporary homes is to ensure that they are being taken care of adequately while awaiting hearings on their asylum claims, which will determine whether or not they can remain in the United States or whether they must be returned to their countries of origin.
This announcement is also highly relevant due to the fact that President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have embarked on a new policy that would take children into custody even when they arrive at the border with Mexico with their parents or other family members. Back in March of last year, for example, it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security was considering a new policy under which children would be taken away from their parents or other family members if they arrived at the border. It was clear at the time that the main purpose of the announcement was to send a message to potential immigrants seeking to cross legally into the United States under a claim of asylum or some other reason from even thinking about doing so for fear of losing their children. Additionally, in May of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that this indeed would be the policy going forward, and there’s every reason to believe that this is exactly what has been happening on the southern border over the past several months.
Given this new policy, the fact that the Administration has lost track of 1,500 children taken into custody in previous years becomes all the more alarming. If the Federal Government can’t keep track of those children and apparently believes it has no legal responsibility to do so, then how can it be trusted with the custody of children who are being taken from their parents? The answer, of course, is that it cannot be trusted and that, in addition to being utterly inhumane, the policy of separating parents from children will put children at risk of being put in the hands of human traffickers who will end up selling them off as slave labor or, worse, to the international market for child sex slaves. To say that this is unconscionable is an understatement and yet it is quite apparent that the Administration simply doesn’t care about the danger it is putting children in.
As Colin Kalmbacher notes, though, the Trump White House has been seeking to falsely blame Democrats for this situation:
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump falsely suggested that Democrats are to blame for his administration’s recently-enacted policy of intentionally separating immigrant children from their families when they try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a tweet sent at 6:59 a.m. the 45th president wrote:
Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border [sic] into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.
While remaining more or less agnostic as to whether putting pressure on Democrats to do anything would actually result in more than a form letter or non-stop series of fundraising emails, President Trump’s suggestion here is doubly inaccurate.
To wit: (1) the “horrible law” Trump is referencing in the above tweet is not actually a law of any sort, it’s an enforcement priority; and (2) it’s an enforcement priority enacted only recently by Trump’s own administration.
The first point:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been opposed to Trump’s child-separation policy since it was first whispered about and has filed a lawsuit to enjoin the administration from continuing the controversial practice.
Here’s the kicker: while arguing against the ACLU’s position, the Department of Justice admitted that their child-separation policy was not required by any law or statute. Simply put, there’s no “horrible law” for Democrats or anyone to rescind that bears directly on the administration’s child-separation policy.
The second point:
At a May 7 speech in front of law enforcement professionals, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III outlined the new policy. He said, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
The Trump administration floated trial balloons about the child-separation policy as early as December 2017. But the actual policy appears to have gone into effect some months before that. how As of October 2017, the New York Times reported in excess of 700 children had been taken away from their families-including over 100 children under the age of 4.
In other words, the Trump Administration is admitting that it has lost track of nearly 1,500 children at the same time that it is implementing a policy that will result in more children being placed in the same system that lost track of those children. The insanity and inhumanity of this situation should be apparent. In Donald Trump’s America, though, it’s just another day at the office.