Undocumented Children Disappearing in America
Study reveals many migrant minors miss court hearings, sponsors lack accountability
Many of the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children placed with sponsors in the United States have skipped immigration court hearings, and U.S. authorities have lost track of many others, according to an analysis released Tuesday.
Produced by Joseph Kolb for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, the study examines government statistics and paints a picture of shoddy follow-through by authorities tasked with making sure youths have settled into sponsor homes and show up for immigration court dates that sometimes are set years in the future.
“They’ve tried to be a little more diligent, but it’s still inadequate.”
“They’ve tried to be a little more diligent, but it’s still inadequate,” Kolb told LifeZette.
Beginning in mid-2014, teenagers from Central American nations began arriving in steady streams at the U.S.-Mexican border. The number dipped the following year, but began rising again last year. From fiscal year 2014 through September 2016, 133,502 children arriving in the United States have been placed with sponsors, according to the report.
The policy of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama was to screen the youths and then place them, when possible, with relatives in the United States. The report cites data obtained by the Associated Press indicating that 80 percent of those children, or 106,802, were placed with sponsors who themselves were illegal immigrants.
Of the 35,713 immigration cases that had been completed by Sept. 26, judges ordered the removal of 14,555 illegal immigrant minors. In nearly all of them, 12,998 people did not show for their hearings. The no-show rate for all cases that have been adjudicated is more than a third.
A small number, 1,040, agreed to return voluntarily to their home countries.
Kolb said the Obama administration favored policies that promoted “family cohesion.” But he said it increased the chances that U.S. authorities would lose track of the illegal immigrant children, particularly when placed adult relatives who have not legal status.
|July 2014-September 2016|
|New cases filed||78.7K|
|First Hearing Scheduled||62.6K|
|Initial Case Completions||35.7K|
|—Orders in absentia||13K|
|Voluntary departure||1 040|
|Admin. closed by judge||404|
|Other admin. completion||58|
|—(asylum and special green cards)||8.6K|
|—By judge after pros discretion||60|
|Other judicial decision||45|
“Because of their illegal status, they’re even more apprehensive to go to court,” he said.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said placing the minors with sponsors in the United States sent a strong signal to people in Central America that they probably would not be sent home if they came.
“The policies, themselves, became an incentive in the Obama administration for more people to come,” he said. “It’s certainly sort of fed the perception that if you come illegally, particularly if you are a minor, your efforts will pay off.”
The Center for Immigration Studies report does not say how many unaccompanied minors who have been ordered deported actually have been sent home, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry from LifeZette. But experts say the number is small.
“It’s low enough to give people the impression that their odds are good enough to try it,” Mehlman said.
Kolb said the issue is not just one of immigration enforcement. He said some of the unaccompanied minors are members of the notoriously violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang or end up getting recruited once they arrive. In a previous report, Kolb detailed the impact that the resurgent gang has had in places that have received large numbers of illegal immigrant youths, like Texas and New York.
“Border violence has come to Long Island (New York), 1,500 miles away,” he said.
The Center for Immigration Studies report also details followup steps taken by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is supposed to call homes where children are placed within 30 days of that placement to check on their well-being. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, according to the report, only 56 percent of unaccompanied children participated in a call.
The ORR makes no attempt to find people who do not answer calls and takes no action against those who refuse to participate, according to the report.
President Donald Trump’s administration is considering steps to deter illegal immigrants from making the long, dangerous journey to the U.S. border. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly confirmed Monday that one option is to hold children in foster care or other facilities while denying their parents entry if families travel together.
"Yes, I am considering, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "They will be well-cared-for as we deal with their parents."
Kolb said he, personally, would oppose separating families. Mehlman, of FAIR, said a better approach would be to expedite the return of parents and children together.
"If they have no legitimate claim to be in the United States, they should be returned as a unit," he said.