If You Read Through the Spin, WaPo Offers Facts on the Migrant Child Crisis

If Bill Ong Hing says it, it must be true

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 28, 2019

On June 25, 2019, the Washington Post published an article captioned "U.S. returns 100 migrant children to overcrowded border facility as HHS says it is out of space". Reading beyond the headline, that article makes clear that a lack of congressional funding, and not cruel Trump administration policy, is the reason for the hardships that children are facing in overcrowded U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities.

First, though, the article takes a swipe at the Trump administration:

[Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)] Secretary Alex Azar, who has been largely absent from the public discussion of migrant children, told reporters at the White House on Monday that the agency has no more room to hold children, despite the fact that federal officials said this month that they are planning to open three emergency shelters to house approximately 3,000 to 4,000 migrant children, two on military bases and one at a facility in southern Texas. Azar and other administration officials said Congress must approve the emergency funding now to deal with the crisis.

"[D]espite the fact that federal officials said this month that they are planning to open three emergency shelters to house approximately 3,000 to 4,000 migrant children, two on military bases and one at a facility in southern Texas"? That sounds pretty damning, as if HHS had the capacity to help those children, but refused to use it.

Digging deeper, there's a link in that quote to a June 7, 2019, article captioned "HHS to house thousands of unaccompanied minor migrants on military bases and at Texas facility". Here is what that article says:

The shelters are expected to be located on two U.S. military bases and at a facility in South Texas, officials said. Authorities have been considering opening shelters on Malmstrom Air Force Base outside Great Falls, Mont., and on two Army bases: Oklahoma's Fort Sill, which housed minors in 2014, and Fort Benning in Georgia. Officials did not specify which bases would house the children.

The Department of Health and Human Services plans to shelter 2,000 children at the military facilities and 1,600 at a temporary emergency influx shelter in Carrizo Springs, Tex., a compound that formerly housed oil-field workers about two hours southwest of San Antonio. Federal officials said a private contractor will run the Texas facility, and HHS is expected to run the military shelters.

Fort Sill? Why does that sound familiar? Maybe this headline from USA Today will help: "Trump administration to house migrant children at Fort Sill, which once served as a Japanese internment camp". Yes, and if you read that article you will see that: "The Obama administration used Fort Sill and other bases to house migrant children from Central America during a 2014 influx but closed the facilities following a public backlash." It's curious the headline did not mention that fact (although the article did). It is also curious that, in challenging Secretary Azar's statement, the Post failed to mention that Obama-era backlash to the use of military bases to house children.

And then of course, there was indirect reference to Ft. Sill by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as reported by CBS News:

"The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Monday night in an emotional Instagram live video. "They are concentration camps," she reiterated to her viewers, who flooded the feed with comments.

The representative from New York said this week, immigrant children were taken to the same concentration camps where people of Japanese ancestry were held in during WWII. Camps were built in states with large Japanese-American populations, including California, Washington and Oregon.

The Fort Sill Army installation in Oklahoma was also used as an internment camp during this time. Last week, the federal government announced a plan to place as many as 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children in makeshift housing at the base.

So, Azar's statement is questionable in the eyes of the Post because HHS was already planning to use a federal facility to house migrant children, a facility that a member of Congress equated with Japanese internment camps? Sounds like a rhetorical Scylla and Charybdis.

Okay, sure, but what about Carrizo Springs? I have never visited any "compound[s] that formerly housed oil-field workers", but I am going to guess that upgrades would be needed before migrant children are sent to one. Nevertheless, the inevitable headline will read: "Children Sent to Former Oil-Field Housing". It is practically a scene out of "How Green Was My Valley", with crude-oil puddles replacing coal dust.

Not that association with FDR-era paranoia or simple inadequacy of spaces for immediate occupancy by children is the only problem with those locations, as the June 7 Post article makes clear:

All children will be housed in dormitory-style buildings until case workers can place them with a parent or sponsor in the United States, but they will not have the educational programming or recreational activities that are normally required in child shelters.

So, HHS could have (at some point in the future, after appropriate repurposing) used the former Japanese internment camp or the former oil-worker housing for those migrant children, but they would not have had "educational programming or recreational activities that are normally required in child shelters." Having been in this field for a while, I can tell you right now that HHS (and, by implication, the Trump administration) would have been excoriated for that too.

Back to the June 25, 2019, Post article, however. In a very revealing passage, it states:

"The Office of Refugee Resettlement [ORR, part of HHS], where they're supposed to be sending these children, is at capacity," said University of San Francisco law professor Bill O. Hing, who was among the six attorneys to interview children at the Clint facility last week.


Border Patrol's small, concrete cells were designed to hold adults for short periods, not children for weeks. There are no beds or private space. The hygiene is minimal, and the food — microwaveable burritos, instant soup and sugary drinks, lawyers said — is basic and poor in nutrition.

"ORR is theoretically set up to release the children safely into the United States. That's what they're staffed to do. CBP doesn't have that capacity. They're all guards," said Hing, who described being moved to tears by the visible trauma of some of the children he interviewed. "They actually don't have the infrastructure to be calling the aunt or the uncle, or even the parent who is in the United States, and actually check out whether it's a safe place to place the child. ... They don't have a staff of social workers, whereas ORR does."

Who is Bill O. Hing? He is Professor Bill Ong Hing, director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, and Dean's Circle Scholar at the University of San Francisco School of Law. As his biography at the school states: "Throughout his career, Professor Bill Ong Hing pursued social justice through a combination of community work, litigation, and scholarship."

Not exactly the sort of guy who you would see defending anything the Trump administration does. In fact, his latest law review article is captioned "Beyond DACA — Defying Employer Sanctions Through Civil Disobedience". An excerpt:

Given the great support expressed by employers, political leaders, educators, and others for DACA recipients and DREAMers more broadly, the time is ripe for action beyond legislative advocacy. Advocacy efforts should continue, but given Congress's poor track record on immigration reform, other actions should be contemplated. Willfully defying employer sanctions is a serious option to consider. [Emphasis added.]

Yeah, you read that right — Hing recommends that employers break the law if he doesn't get his way on DACA and DREAMers. That is technically "criminal disobedience", but then I have only enforced and helped adjudicate employer-sanctions laws, not "pursued social justice", so I may be a little unclear on the finer points.

The Post then switches back to the "separating families" saw:

Critics say the Trump administration has compounded the crisis by unnecessarily separating children from adult relatives, and through the detention and mass arrests of migrant families and others with no criminal history, instead of focusing enforcement efforts on serious criminals.

"There are so many unaccompanied kids because the U.S. government is ripping families apart at the border when those families consist of children and non-primary or non-parent caretakers," said Clara Long, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which has documented abuses along the border. [Emphasis added.]

"[N]on-primary or non-parent caretakers"? That is an exceptionally broad category of individuals that leads to the metaphorical "slippery slope".

I assume that the coyote who was paid to bring the child to the United States is a "non-parent caretaker". So is the fellow migrant to whom a spare child is entrusted by a biological parent to facilitate that fellow migrant's entry into the United States, as described by my colleague Todd Bensman in a May 29, 2019, post. So is Long suggesting that any child who travels with any adult should simply be released into the United States with that adult?

If it is, the obvious result would be that friends, neighbors, or even individuals whom those children's parents in the United States (78.7 percent of whom are here illegally) met online or through family, friends, or neighbors would be acceptable "caretakers" for those children for purposes of release, at least in Long's estimation. Molestation, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse would be the inevitable result of such a policy.

To be fair, Hing is a bit choosier in his choice of caretakers for vulnerable minors:

"There are so many other options — you don't have to take them into detention to begin with," Hing said. "A number of the children I interviewed came with aunts or uncles. It really isn't necessary to take into custody many of these folks who are coming with families."

But is he really choosier? How does one define "aunts" and "uncles"? I am an uncle to my siblings' children, and for what is worth, my siblings' children's children and even my siblings' step-children. I assume that the first two relationships could be verified through DNA testing (but am not certain), while the latter plainly would not.

If I were married, I would also be an "uncle" to my wife's siblings' children. There would be no DNA testing possible for that, and HHS (or worse, CBP) would have to research the relationship between me and the minor, which is likely not an easy process, prior to release. Or take the word of someone who already broke the law by entering illegally.

With that in mind, I'm also referred to as "Uncle Art" by many of the minor children of my friends. It has been my experience that this is not unique to my friends or our culture, but rather that such sobriquets are common throughout the world. Should CBP accept the representation of a five-year-old child that "Uncle Art" is an actual relative? To ask the question is to answer it.

Hing's conclusions appear to rest on the belief that family members do not pose a danger to children. Justice Department (DOJ) statistics say otherwise. According to a DOJ report captioned "Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics", the department found:

About one-quarter (27%) of all offenders were family members of their victims. ... The offenders of young victims were more likely than the offenders of older victims to be family members. Almost half (49%) of the offenders of victims under age 6 were family members, compared with 42% of the offenders who sexually assaulted youth ages 6 through 11, and 24% of offenders who sexually assaulted juveniles ages 12 through 17. [Emphasis added.]

That report studied only American sexual-assault statistics, but I doubt whether the incidents of sexual assault abroad are lower, or whether such assaults are a uniquely American phenomenon.

All of this brings up an additional important point. CBP's capacity to assess whether even a biological parent poses a danger to his or her child is extremely limited. As the Washington Post notes:

Barring criminal records, families that include parents and their children are typically allowed to remain together, and federal authorities have released many of them into the United States to await court dates that might be months or even years away. [Emphasis added.]

"Criminal records" from where? The United States? If so, that means that we're essentially opening the doors to criminals to reenter this country if they bring their kids. From Central America? As a judge, I had a hard time getting the parties to get me criminal records from the United States; I can hardly imagine how accessible they are from Huehuetenango, Guatemala, or San Pedro Sula, Honduras, or worse, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Luanda, Angola.

Finally, the Post states: "DHS has concerns that some migrants are traveling to the United States with children who are not theirs to avoid detention and deportation, but officials have not provided statistics on such cases." Since when do we assume that government officials just randomly lie about facts? In any event, the statement is wrong.

In April 2018, KVEO, the NBC outlet in Brownsville, Texas, reported:

U.S. Border Patrol has identified over 3,000 fraudulent family unit cases in the last six months. That is according to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. He says the system is full and urges congress [sic] to act on current immigration policies.

"It's very clear that the cartel and smugglers know the weaknesses in our laws. They know that family units and unaccompanied children will be released with no consequences for their illegal entries."

On June 11, 2019, the Washington Examiner reported:

Border officials from October to May have documented 4,800 members of families in which an adult who claimed to be related to a child in his or her possession was not the parent, just under 1.5% of the 332,981 total illegally entering family members, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

"We have identified now more than 4,800 family units that were fraudulent as they presented at the border," acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The family units tally represents the number of individuals, either a child under 18 years old, parent, or legal guardian, apprehended with a family member by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to the DHS.

So, either officials have provided statistics on the number of migrants who are traveling to the United States with children who are not theirs, or the former deputy commissioner of CBP under Barack Obama lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Which do you think is more likely?

Given the fact that the welfare of children is at stake, facts, not rhetoric (and certainly not political spin posing as reporting) are critical to determining what to do in order to address the unfolding humanitarian and national-security disaster at the Southwest border. You can find those facts, but you just have to look really hard.