Cable news hosts, out of the blue, have discovered the federal government does a lousy job of keeping track of illegal immigrant children who arrive alone at the U.S.-Mexico border and are taken into custody by law enforcement officials.
Congressional testimony last week that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) failed to account for 1,475 so-called unaccompanied minors placed with sponsors in the United States sparked outrage. Former Clinton administration officials, liberal mainstream media journalists and other progressives over the weekend widely shared a photo showing children sleeping on the ground behind a chain-link fence.
They tweeted their disgust at President Donald Trump — until they realized the photo was from 2014, when Barack Obama was chief executive. Most of those Twitter users subsequently deleted their tweets.
To Joseph Kolb, executive director of the Southwest Gang Information Center, the newfound media concern over the government’s record on unaccompanied children is perplexing. Kolb has researched unaccompanied youths and the links to the rise of gangs like MS-13.
“After a period of time, the extent of ORR’s follow-up is a phone call … Sometimes they don’t even talk to the kid,” he said. “Especially sponsors who aren’t parents, maybe they see they bit off more than they can chew. Again, it’s in the front door, out the back.”
The testimony by Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Steven Wagner was delivered before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc).
Under a court settlement that prohibits the long-term detention of illegal immigrant children, U.S. authorities have placed tens of thousands of teenagers with parents or other relatives — or in foster homes, as a last resort.
A 2016 inspector general report found that the ORR was able to reach only 84 percent of the children it had placed, leaving 4,159 unaccounted for, and their whereabouts a mystery.
In a February 2017 report, Kolb cited ORR data indicating that in the first three months of fiscal year 2016, only 56 percent of unaccompanied children participated in follow-up calls with government officials within 30 days of their U.S. placement. Those ORR officials were unable even to reach a sponsor in more than 10 percent of the cases.
Kolb said the federal government should make a greater effort to hold sponsors accountable when the youths fail to attend school or skip immigration court hearings. He said that most of the sponsors are themselves illegal immigrants, and could easily be deported without a protracted fight over what level of responsibility they bear for the conduct of their charges.
“This still stems back to Obama’s policies,” he said. “He had an open-door, open-arms policy toward them.”
Former immigration judge Andrew “Art” Arthur, senior fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said Tuesday on Fox News’ “The Laura Ingraham Show” that Trump’s critics are misrepresenting the facts.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to use a talking point against Donald Trump by people who don’t like Donald Trump, don’t like his immigration policy,” he said. “The fact is that we need to dissuade parents from bringing their children to the border.”
A massive surge in youths traveling alone, which began in summer 2014 and has ebbed and flowed since then, has overwhelmed ORR. Those challenges can be seen in immigration court statistics.
According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the number of unaccompanied minor cases pending in immigration court has increased every year since fiscal year 2008. That year, 3,186 cases remained pending. That jumped to 71,521 by the end of the fiscal year, which ended September 30.
Six months through the current fiscal year, 76,634 cases had yet to be resolved.
[lz_table title=”Growing Court Backlog” source=”Executive Office for Immigration Review”]Unaccompanied minor cases pending in immigration court
|Fiscal Year,Pending Cases
*As of March 31
Not every major news organization mischaracterized the facts surrounding the issue.
The New York Times on Sunday refuted widely repeated allegations that the “lost” children resulted from the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their illegal immigrant parents. That stems from a policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the federal government would arrest illegal immigrants if they faced charges related to illegal border crossing — even if they have children in tow.
Hundreds of children already have been separated from parents who have been arrested since October.
But, as The Times acknowledged, that is unrelated to the report on the illegal immigrant children for which the government cannot account. Those 1,475 children arrived alone — not with parents — and were sent to sponsors already in the United States.