If You Are Just Now Angry About UAC Detention, You Haven't Been Paying Attention

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 26, 2019

A piece in the Washington Post on Tuesday aptly encapsulates the outrage (real or otherwise) expressed in recent days over the conditions in which unaccompanied alien children (UACs) are being detained at the border. I'm not sure whether that is reporting or an opinion piece, but it doesn't really matter. That author, and many, many others in the press vilify the Trump administration (and by implication U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)) for those conditions. Respectfully, they are only angry because they haven't been paying attention.

On June 1, 2019, I wrote a post captioned: "McAleenan Details the Scope of the Disaster at the Border: A very revealing phone call". That post detailed a background press call made by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on May 30, 2019. During that press call, McAleenan stated:

Over 2,350 unaccompanied children — the highest level ever — are currently in custody waiting for days for placements in border stations that cannot provide appropriate conditions for them because Health and Human Services [HHS] is out of bed space and Congress has failed to act on the administration's emergency supplemental request for more than four weeks.

Read that paragraph again. McAleenan stated as clearly as possible that there was a problem at the border because CBP is not equipped to detain UACs, but that it has to do so because HHS, which by law should be sheltering those UACs, lacks funding. Then, ask yourself how many times you saw these facts seriously reported during the first two weeks of June.

I knew it was a problem, because I repeated the statement on June 11, 2019; on June 18, 2019; on June 20, 2019; and on June 21, 2019. And I repeated it in numerous radio and press interviews in between. The June 20, 2019, post dealt with statements made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) comparing immigration detention to "concentration camps", in which I referred to McAleenan's comments:

This is a significant point that AOC does not reference. By law (which originated with House Democrats), the placement of those children cannot occur until they go into the custody of HHS. Proper placement of UACs is critical to the well-being and safety of those UACs. As the Congressional Research Service has observed:

In making these placement determinations, ORR conducts a background investigation to ensure the identity of the adult assuming legal guardianship for the UAC and that the adult does not have a record of abusive behavior. ORR may consult with the consulate of the UAC's country of origin as well as interview the UAC to ensure he or she also agrees with the proposed placement. If such background checks reveal evidence of actual or potential abuse or trafficking, ORR may require a home study as an additional precaution. In addition, the parent or guardian is required to complete a Parent Reunification Packet to attest that they agree to take responsibility for the UAC and provide him/her with proper care.

The logical alternative implicitly proposed by AOC is that those UACs not be detained at all, which would eliminate the government's ability to vet potential sponsors. If UACs were not detained, therefore, they would face the significant risk of being subject to exploitation and abuse, if not outright trafficking.

And, because representatives like AOC have failed to act in a timely manner to provide HHS the funds to shelter UACs, those UACs must languish in the custody of CBP that she herself decries. Somehow, this crucial point gets lost in the discussion. In fact, it was only on June 19, 2019, that the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced legislation to the full Senate that would provide $2.88 billion for the UAC program. That was seven weeks after the president requested that funding, and the legislation still needs to pass both houses of Congress before such funding becomes available.

Since the president made his initial request for additional funding on May 1, 2019, the House has been in session for 29 days (they took seven weekdays off for Memorial "Day"). On June 21, 2019, House Appropriations Chairman Nita Lowey stated (after finally introducing a funding bill): "There are serious humanitarian needs at the border, and we all recognize the clear need to act." I am glad she recognized that fact eventually, but respectfully she was about seven weeks too late.

And, unfortunately, that bill is loaded with restrictions that will only make the humanitarian and national-security situation at the border worse. As the committee's press release states:

The supplemental also contains important oversight provisions to hold the administration accountable and to protect the rights and dignity of migrants, including:

  • No funding for a border wall or barriers, or for ICE detention beds;
  • Prohibits the use of funds for any purpose not specifically described;
  • Places strict conditions on influx shelters to house children by mandating compliance with requirements set forth in the Flores settlement;
  • Protects sponsors and potential sponsors from DHS immigration enforcement based on information collected by HHS during the sponsor vetting process;
  • Ensures congressional oversight visits to facilities caring for unaccompanied children without a requirement for prior notice;
  • Requires monthly reporting on unaccompanied children separated from their families;
  • Requires additional reporting about the deaths of children in government custody; and
  • Ensures CBP facilities funded in the bill comply with the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search.

Some of these restrictions are unexceptional, some are bad, and some are worse.

Given the fact that more than 61 percent of the 144,278 aliens apprehended at and between the ports of entry along the Southwest border last month were family units (FMUs), denying funding for additional ICE detention beds will simply encourage more migrants to undertake the deadly journey to the United States with their children.

How deadly?

Here is how McAleenan described smugglers and their activities in his June 11, 2019, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Every single day, smugglers and traffickers profit from human misery by exploiting people who are seeking a better life. These smugglers, many with ties to transnational criminal organizations, may deprive aliens of food and water, physically assault them, and place them in dangerous travel conditions, such as locking them in tractor-trailers while outside temperatures reach 115 degrees.

We've seen large groups of mostly family units from Guatemala traveling on buses through Mexico to the U.S. border in a much shorter smuggling cycle, making the journey in as little as four to seven days.

Still other migrants are trafficked or used as drug mules. Human traffickers have no regard for the health and safety of the migrants who pay them; as a result, many who make the journey become sick, injured, or traumatized.

Or, as the Homeland Security Advisory Council's bipartisan CBP Families and Children Care Panel explained:

  1. Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S. The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money.

  1. Children are being exploited and placed in danger in many ways —
    • Adults fraudulently claiming parentage to a child to gain entry to the U.S. are increasing.
    • Some children are being re-cycled by criminal smuggling organizations, i.e. returned to Central America to accompany a separate, unrelated adult on another treacherous journey through Mexico to the U.S. border.
    • Human traffickers have extracted additional fees as a form of indentured servitude from FMUs who were released with NTAs and made their way to the interior of the U.S.
    • The risk for commercial sexual exploitation of these children and teens is predictably high and will be very difficult to prevent after transport or release into the interior U.S.

Yeah. That bad.

I already explained the dangers inherent in "[p]rotect[ing] sponsors and potential sponsors from DHS immigration enforcement based on information collected by HHS during the sponsor vetting process" in a February 2019 post on the last funding bill:

To recap, congressional Democrats put language into an appropriations bill that both makes it more difficult for ICE to do its job of apprehending aliens illegally present in the United States (for which, by the way, the appropriators did not include additional funding) while at the same time providing greater incentives for parents and legal guardians to pay to place children in the hands of some of the most vile criminals on the face of the earth.

None of that is hyperbole.

And perhaps House Appropriations can "Require additional reporting about the deaths of children during the smuggling journey" with their parents and guardians. That list will likely be pretty high.

You can probably start with the toddler and two infants with an approximately 20-year-old woman whose bodies were found near the Rio Grande at "El Rincón del Diablo" in Hidalgo County, Texas, on Sunday. Were they migrants? Authorities have not stated dispositively, but I cannot imagine why they were in an "area is thick with vegetation, closed to civilians and mostly owned by the federal government" and "very well known for immigrants crossing the river" near the border otherwise.

Add in the two children who died in May "transiting through Mexico into the United States ... drowning in a river, both a five-year-old and ten-month-old", to whom McAleenan referred in his May 30 press call. And only God knows how many more.

Simply put: Congress needs to give the president the border and detention funding that he is requesting. Or they, not the president or CBP, should own the consequences.