Two articles that appeared in the past few days underscore the fact that there is a disaster unfolding along the border, and that the worst victims are children who are being exploited and abused by their parents to gain entry into the United States. My question is: where is the outrage?
On May 28, 2019, the Washington Post ran an article by Maria Sacchetti about the situation at the border in Yuma, Ariz., titled "The crush of children at Arizona's border shows a U.S. immigration system on the brink." She notes that half of the aliens apprehended along the border in the Yuma Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) have been children, for a very simple reason:
Asylum-seeking migrants arriving dusty and exhausted here in recent days said it is easier than ever to enter the United States — if they surrender with a child. Because minors generally cannot be held for long periods, most are released with their families or to a shelter.
I will return below to the first word ("asylum") she uses. And, although Sacchetti never refers to the case, it is plain from that article that adults and smugglers are exploiting children to take advantage of the loophole created by Judge Dolly Gee and the Ninth Circuit in interpreting the Flores settlement agreement, which requires the release of accompanied alien children by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 20 days. I foretold this influx and the reason for it in a post I wrote describing the most recent order in that case in July 2018, almost 11 months ago, but I was hardly alone.
In that article, Sacchetti explains how the influx of children traveling in family units (FMUs) has put a strain not only the USBP, but also on groups in that city that are attempting to provide those aliens who have been released (as most are) with basic services, including food and showers. In her article, she focuses on the responses of the children in those FMUs to their situations, in USBP custody and in the shelters that have been set up to accommodate them.
In addition, she discusses the plight of those children who are on the other side of the border from Yuma, waiting to enter the United States:
One recent night, children played with Barbie dolls and coloring books on a filthy sidewalk beside a traffic-clogged street. They slept under blue tarps weighed down with rocks and pressed against a towering border fence fortified with razor wire. They pay a few pesos to a lady down the street to bathe or wash their hair. They are trying to cross legally, and they have been waiting for three months.
The place she describes appears to be San Luis Rio Colorado, which is across the border from the greater Yuma area. I saw migrants like the ones she describes when I was there, and wrote about them in a February 4, 2019 post (which included pictures of the families under the tarps). I was told that the families who are waiting on the Mexican side of the border get food and toiletries from the nearby stores and restaurants, and that they also have the opportunity to get cleaned up nearby (although for more than the few pesos Sacchetti describes).
Poignantly, she includes the following quote:
"The people who suffer are the children," said Rosa, who traveled to the border with her 10-year-old daughter, Ruth, an aspiring airline stewardess from El Salvador. "They could be smiling and playing, but only they know how they feel."
That really could be the best synopsis of that article: "The people who suffer are the children."
On May 29, 2019, my colleague Todd Bensman wrote a post captioned "How the 'Faux Family' Scam Really Works; An Interview on the Front Line." "Faux family" in this case refers to an adult alien who shows up at the border claiming to be the parent of an accompanying child, but who is really a more distant family member, or a friend of the child's family, or even a stranger.
Bensman explains how those faux families are set up as part of a smuggling scheme that is struck in the home country of the child and his or her real parent. He interviewed Monica Mapel, who is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge in San Antonio. She is leading the effort to assess the faux family situation along part of the border in Texas. Bensman reports:
Mapel said human smugglers or brokers in home countries cut package deals where a parent provides a child (especially if parents have more than one) to a child-less migrant for a fee or an in-kind reduction in the real parent's own smuggling fee. Such packages can reach $7,000 for transportation, food, doctored birth certificates, and the child.
"If you have children to spare during your trip to the U.S., your trip is not as expensive," she explained.
The child, real parent, unrelated adult client, and smuggler often make the trip together. Only at the border is the child and bogus birth certificate given over to the paying migrant, who is expected to return the child days or weeks later once everyone is inside the United States.
"I have current examples where they (the unrelated adult male) had never met them (the child) until the transportation to the U.S. began," Mapel said, recounting that some involved have revealed: "'I have no idea who the child is. I never met him before until I got on the transport. The child was given to me and the birth certificate was provided. The mom was on the bus.'"
He notes that three factors are critical to the success of these schemes: the child must have a birth certificate with the child's real first name on it (so the child will respond to the name if asked); the real parent must separate from the child and the fake parent and enter at a different place and time; and all of the participants in the scheme must successfully enter the United States and reunite later.
As Bensman observes, this third factor is "the part of the process where a child is most prone to harm and abuse":
It is at the point of border entry, Mapel said, that the child is victimized and open to harm – by potentially weeks of separation from the real parent or guardian, by being at the mercy of a non-parent and possible stranger in detention and for some time after release, and by the prospect that a child could be harmed or abandoned. It's unclear how many cases where a provided child was never delivered and has gone missing. Children abandoned by real and fake parents have ended up in the custody of U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), waiting on a real parent to reclaim them.
"In the cases I'm looking at," Mapel said. "the mother lost track of that child. That child is now in another person's custody because they didn't reunite or something, somewhere."
Others may be abandoned in the field. Plenty of abandoned-child cases have come to the attention of federal agents, such a 3-year-old boy found recently near McAllen, Texas, crying alone in a corn field, the only tie to his family possibly the phone number written on one of his shoes. While it's unclear whether those children had been used for the asylum loophole entry, Mapel described the vulnerability that complicit parents allow by turning their kids over to others, during detention and after release, as "just foul."
"It's a new low for humanity that you would give your child away like this to a stranger or friend," she said. "I'd hate to see something happen to that child after the handoff occurs. They are with somebody who is not their parent. What if fake mom or fake dad needed to make medical decisions for the child? Just some random guy is going to be saying it's ok to do this procedure at a hospital? It's just not right; the person who is supposed to be protecting them is not there."
Sacchetti, Bensman, and Mapel are not the only ones to reference the harm that is being inflicted on children as a result of the current border disaster. The Homeland Security Advisory Council's CBP Families and Children Care Panel (Panel) issued a Final Emergency Interim Report last month. The bipartisan Panel described the dangers confronting migrant children:
Children who are crossing the borders of the U.S. are at great risk for multiple medical problems, which include but are not limited to, dehydration, malnutrition, infections, psychological trauma, physical injuries and all aspects of child maltreatment. Many of these sequelae are not necessarily evident within the context of a non-medical evaluation. An expectation for clinical acumen by CBP agents and officers is highly unrealistic. Even medical personnel need to have a higher level of expertise to anticipate some of the potential infectious disease complications that can be found in this population of children.
* * * *
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.
Having laid out the harm, abuse, and exploitation that children in FMUs are facing, I'm going to return for a moment to Sacchetti's assertion that she is describing "[a]sylum-seeking migrants," which I quote above.
She continues: "Migrants say they are coming to the United States because droughts are frying Central American harvests, they can't pay their bills, and gangs are recruiting children." I have great respect for Maria Sacchetti, who has been covering immigration for a long while, and understands the subject. That said, bad harvests and an inability to pay one's bills are not grounds for asylum, and gang recruitment without more isn't either.
For what is worth, none of the stories that she includes in that article supports an asylum claim, either. For example:
"I want to study," said Cesar Gonzalez, 13, of Guatemala, wearing a donated sweatshirt with "USA" emblazoned across his chest, soon after he was released from custody, as he and his family waited at the Yuma airport for a flight to Boston. "And then I can work to help my father."
* * * *
Emmanuel and Ayembi, twin brothers from Guatemala, are going to Pennsylvania to meet their grandfather for the first time. Their mother, Beisy, 22, hasn't seen him since he left Guatemala 15 years ago to work and send money home.
A Honduran woman named Lilian burst into tears when asked how smugglers treated her along the journey. She said she left Honduras because her mother has cancer and needs more money to pay for treatment.
Or, there is Queny, who said she "fled a cheating husband and plans to stay with a friend in North Carolina. 'We are going to work.'"
A desire to study, an interest in reuniting with a family member, a need to pay for medical treatments, and wanting to work after leaving a cheating spouse are all, in isolation, positive intentions. Asylum, however, is intended to protect those who cannot protect themselves from harm by their government or a group that government won't stop, and even then that relief is limited to instances where the harm is inflicted because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Why so circumscribed? Because the world can be dangerous place, and the framers of that relief did not want to expand it to every person who faces every harm or hardship. If they were to do so, borders and sovereignty would be meaningless, and massive migrant flows would create humanitarian disasters. Kind of like what Sacchetti describes along the border in Yuma.
Whether they know it or not, Ceasar Gonzalez, Emmanuel and Ayembi, Lilian, and Queny are abusing a humanitarian form of relief that is meant to help those who have nowhere else to turn. The smugglers actually do know that, but don't care. It is the moral equivalent of getting welfare you aren't really eligible for to pay to go to school, to travel to see your grandfather, or for medical treatment, or to find a new place to stay after a breakup. Such abuses make it harder for real asylum applicants to obtain sanctuary for themselves and their loved ones, just as welfare fraud hurts the truly needy.
Sacchetti also appears to misapprehend the meaning of crossing the border "legally," as she does in describing the street scene in (what I assume is) San Luis Rio Colorado.
Entering the border legally means having a passport, getting a visa, presenting that passport and visa to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer, and being admitted. It does not mean showing up without permission to enter at a port of entry so that you can be freed into the United States. It is the "legal" equivalent of bribing an official to board a Pakistani International Airlines flight in Karachi, showing up at JFK, and when you are caught claiming asylum so that you can get released. That is what Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center Bombing, did, in case you are wondering.
Sacchetti is not the only one who made this mistake, even in that article. She quotes Russell McCloud, Yuma County "board vice chairman and a Republican": "'I oppose illegal immigration because it's illegal, but what you see now is migration. It's lawful'. . . referring to Central American asylum claimants. ‘That's the issue, right? Otherwise, they would be stopped and turned away.'" Actually, wrong, board vice chairman and Republican Russell McCloud. Aliens who enter without inspection between the ports of entry, are caught, and claim asylum are here illegally, and they have committed a crime. It's okay, though, the Washington Post has made the same mistake in the past.
Returning to the point – where is the outrage about the mistreatment of children by parents and smugglers along the border? I am reminded of the most memorable scene in the 1976 movie, "Network." Howard Beale, long-time anchor for the eponymous New York-based network, becomes mentally unhinged and goes on a tirade:
I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot — I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. [shouting] You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
Within the course of a week almost two months back, I appeared before two Democratic-led committees in the House of Representatives. The subjects? The treatment of unaccompanied alien children (akin to the children in FMUs except that they enter illegally without parents or guardians, and one and the same in the minds of the Flores judges), and "Protecting DREAMERS and TPS Recipients." The latter hearing focused primarily on hardships to alien children and those brought illegally to the United States as children. At each of those hearings, the members, and especially the Democratic members, spoke passionately about their interest in the welfare of alien children in the United States.
Where is the Howard Beale-like intensity from those representatives about the harm, abuse, and exploitation of children in FMUs who are being used as pawns by their parents to get released into the United States? Where is the member who is shouting "I am as mad as hell, and I am not going to accept an immigration system that allows children to suffer?" Nobody is. Nobody is getting up out of their chairs, opening their windows, or even expressing so much as a whimper of outrage.
There is this, from Sacchetti's article: "'I've never seen it this bad, and I think it's going to get worse,' said U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who recently visited Yuma." So far, so good. He continues, though: "As kids, they are now part and parcel of a presidential election. As that campaign escalates as they become more desperate, so will the situation on the border."
Those last two sentences are a statement rife with what we call in Washington "big-P Politics," that is the struggle between the two political parties for power. Rep. Grijalva is a high-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, he is dean of Arizona's congressional delegation, and his district includes parts of Yuma and also the border town of Nogales. In other words, he is in as good, if not better, a position to make the Howard Beale primal scream that is in order than most. Instead, what do we get? "As kids, they are now part and parcel of a presidential election. As that campaign escalates as they become more desperate, so will the situation on the border." Respectfully, this is bloodless and partisan.
There is worse. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) blamed the deaths of migrant children at the border on the Trump administration: "With five kids that have died ... the evidence is really clear that this is intentional, it's a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration and it's cruel and inhumane . . . ." With due respect to the lady from Illinois, this is like blaming the paramedic for the death of a shooting victim. There is a bipartisan report she should read. Again, pure partisanship.
Kids are being used and abused at the border, and not by USBP, CBP, ICE, ORR, or even DJT, but by their parents and their parents' criminal accomplices. If this were happening to American children, it would be cover to cover in every newspaper in America, it would be every minute of cable news, and the top story on every network nightly news, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. Why is it any different in the context of foreign nationals? Never mind, I know the answer – politics.
And yes, I am as mad as hell that politics is causing children to suffer, and I am not going to take it anymore. Neither should you.