Undocumented Immigrant Children: Debunking the Fake News (Part 1)

On May 28th 2018, US misplaced 1500 undocumented immigrant children was being shared on all news channels. Since then, there has been several news reports of kids missing interspersed with the new immigration policy being adopted by the US to separate children from their parents. This will be a 2 part series. I will try to break down the current scenario. It will look into both the missing children (Part 1) and the family separation policy (Part 2). It will also look into the legality aspect of both these situations.

What Actually Happened?

News broke out that Federal Agencies had lost track of nearly 1500 migrant children placed under sponsors. The news was made public when Steven Wagner, the acting assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, disclosed the status to the public. He stated that the agency learnt about this after they placed calls to the people who took responsibility for the children when they would be released from the government custody.

These children who ended up in custody are those who showed up alone at the borders of the US, usually near the South-west – coming from places such as the Honduras, El Salvador & Guatemala. Usually these children would be running from serious problems in their home countries like cartels, gang violence or even domestic abuse.

The numbers are as follows:

Total Number of Children unaccounted for1475
Total Children Reached by the HHS7635
Total number of children who remained with sponsors6075
Number of Runaway children28
Number of children removed from the US5
Number of children relocated52

What has happened to these children?

One of the main fears is the trafficking of children that could occur. The children, after coming out of custody, are handed over to their sponsors. Sponsors are either their parents or their family members. But this is done only after detailed background checks are done. The officials carry out regular follow-ups after placing the children with the sponsors.

Another aspect that is touted as being the underlying reason is that many of the sponsors might not have taken the call. Eric Hargan, US acting secretary of Health and Human Services, states that the sponsors either could not respond or could not be reached when the voluntary call was made. He said that sometimes sponsors don’t answer calls as they are illegal immigrants themselves. He said that this revealed a fundamental flaw in the US Immigration policy. This policy, which has incentivised immigrants to break laws, is the core of the immigrant issue according to Hargan.

Hence, the problem could be either child trafficking, smugglers, or sponsors who did not pick up the calls. The number 1475 was got at because of a call.

Lost Immigrant Children
Lost Immigrant Children

Shouldn’t the authorities be liable for the unaccounted children?

The authorities were quick to clarify that the Office of the Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is not responsible for children after their release. Which is why Hargan used the phrase “voluntary call”.

While talking to Vox, Jennifer Podkul, the director of the Washington based non-profit Kids in Need of Defense, stated that the idea behind the calls was to ensure the safety of the kids rather than tracking them. She admitted that the chances of undocumented parents and sponsors not picking up the call could be high. This could be attributed to the scared environment they have been subjected to. With continuous raids and deportation proceedings being initiated against them, it is understandable why they have not taken the calls.

Is there any Legal Provision?

But according to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008

(2) SAFE AND SECURE PLACEMENTS- Subject to section 462(b)(2) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 279(b)(2)), an unaccompanied alien child in the custody of the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. In making such placements, the Secretary may consider danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight.

Placement of child trafficking victims may include placement in an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, pursuant to section 412(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1522(d)), if a suitable family member is not available to provide care.

A child shall not be placed in a secure facility absent a determination that the child poses a danger to self or others or has been charged with having committed a criminal offense. The placement of a child in a secure facility shall be reviewed, at a minimum, on a monthly basis, in accordance with procedures prescribed by the Secretary, to determine if such placement remains warranted.

But according to Podkul, less that 1% of the children have gotten these post release services (including home visits).

Hence, the undocumented immigrant children unaccounted for could be an amalgamation of various reasons such as:

  • undocumented sponsors ignoring the calls
  • trafficking
  • smuggling
  • poor post-release services

But the number of children that seems to have been “misplaced” or “lost” could increase substantially. This comes in wake of the news about a policy which separates kids from its parents near the US border.

Part 2 of this article will look into the legality of that policy. Watch this space for updates!

2 thoughts on “Undocumented Immigrant Children: Debunking the Fake News (Part 1)”

  1. How can these children ever be placed with undocumented sponsors? Wouldn’t that be illegal in the first place?

    1. Hello Sir! Thank you for the question. It is true that placing children with undocumented sponsors would be illegal. But there are certain ways that someone can be considered undocumented. According to Texas University website, someone can become undocumented in the following ways:
      – Entered the U.S. legally and immigration status has since expired
      – Entered the U.S. without inspection
      – Submitted immigration application/petition is denied and continued to remain in the U.S.

      It is pertinent to consider that more often than not the kids’ relatives living in US would likely not be US citizens. They could be living with temporary visas and as mentioned above their visa could have expired. With the current scenario of strict immigration laws in the US, I don’t think the children would be placed with undocumented sponsors to begin with. But over the course of the period that the children are placed with them, they would have lost their legal immigration status.

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