The Emerging Crisis of Unaccompanied Minors at the Border Was Totally Predictable

CBS News is reporting that shelters for unaccompanied minors are near capacity as border crossings are increasing. This looming crisis is the natural consequence of President Biden’s executive order on immigration enforcement and his rhetoric regarding DACA and amnesty. The border saw a similar situation in 2014 after the Obama administration adopted a “catch and release” policy to get around the restrictions related to detaining children. From CBS:

Last week, U.S. border agents apprehended more than 1,500 migrant children, according to government statistics reviewed by CBS News. On Sunday, an additional 300 minors were taken into custody.

Due to the steady increase in border crossings by unaccompanied children, nearly 90% of the 8,000 available beds administered by the federal agency charged with housing these minors are being occupied. On Monday, the number of children housed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reached 7,100, leaving fewer than 900 empty beds.

DHS is still dealing with the impact of the last unaccompanied minor crisis. During the 2020 campaign, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf clarified the status of family reunification. Of the migrant children who remained in the U.S. at that time, 485 children remained. Their parents had been contacted and refused to have them returned to the home country. These parents are desperate to have their children receive legal status to remain in the United States.

The previous crisis at the border also allowed MS-13 gang members to enter and move into communities nationwide. Following Operation Matador in 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement noted that 99 of the MS-13 gang members arrested entered as unaccompanied minors. Sixty-four of them had obtained Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

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In that operation, ICE apprehended 210 gang members in Nassau County, N.Y., including Long Island. Arrests of an additional 96 gang members ranging in age from 16-54 happened in 2019. Law enforcement took 14 more MS-13 gang leaders into custody in January of 2021. At the time, acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said:

“MS-13 is responsible for a wave of death and violence that has terrorized communities, leaving neighborhoods on Long Island and throughout the Eastern District of New York in bloodshed. Even when incarcerated the Ranfla Nacional continued to direct MS-13s global operations, recruit new members, including children, into MS-13 and orchestrate murder and mayhem around the world,” he said.

In addition to the risks to communities from criminals abusing the system, unaccompanied minors can become victims after they arrive in the U.S. following the abuse many of them suffer during their migration. A bipartisan Senate investigation found that the Obama administration did not appropriately vet the adults who claimed unaccompanied minors at the border beginning in 2011. From the report:

The report was released ahead of a hearing Thursday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which [Sen. Rob] Portman co-chairs with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). It detailed nearly 30 cases where unaccompanied children had been trafficked after federal officials released them to sponsors or where there were “serious trafficking indicators.”

“HHS places children with individuals about whom it knows relatively little and without verifying the limited information provided by sponsors about their alleged relationship with the child,” the report said.

Federal officials followed up with just 2.2% of the unaccompanied minors placed with sponsors:

Documents were “often missing” from the 27 random case files that oversight officials selected for review.

“None of the 27 case files we reviewed contained all of the required documents to verify the services provided,” the report found, “Specifically, 14 case files were missing the Know Your Rights legal presentation acknowledgement form, 10 were missing a record of group counseling sessions, and 5 were missing clinical progress notes. In addition, we identified several cases in which forms that were present in the files were not signed or dated.”

Unaccompanied minors are now awaiting transfer to the same agency that was managing the process when the Senate issued the 2014 report. The findings at that time demonstrated that the Refugee Resettlement Office relaxed background checks and other verifications, including fingerprinting meant to ensure children are placed in safe environments. The latest crisis is already reaching unmanageable proportions as the system for processing unaccompanied children reaches capacity:

Under U.S. law, CBP is required to transfer most unaccompanied children to the refugee office within three days of taking them into custody. On Friday, roughly 750 unaccompanied children were in CBP custody awaiting placement in facilities overseen by the refugee office, a person familiar with the number told CBS News.

According to data obtained by CBS News, at least 179 migrant children spent more than three days in CBP facilities in January, despite internal policy dictating that all migrants, especially minors, should be released within 72 hours. More than 45 of them were held for over 10 days. In December, at least 48 minors remained in CBP custody longer than three days.

After the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border during the Obama administration, it is unconscionable that the Biden administration has chosen to recreate it with promises of legal status that may or may not materialize. Our leaders know full well the risks to Americans’ safety and security posed by gang members and criminals slipping through the cracks at the border. They also know the humanitarian crises it created last time, both on the journey for unaccompanied minors and once inside the United States. We are supposed to learn from history, not repeat it.

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