Reality Check at HHS Exposes UAC-Gang Nexus

By Joseph J. Kolb on June 27, 2017

An article in the Washington Times last week reported what many, especially in law enforcement, already know: A significant percentage of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) from Central America have ties to gangs such as MS-13.

The article cites a survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at their secure detention centers for UACs. This revelation comes in the wake of Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on June 21 where it was revealed the agency really has no idea how prevalent the gang problem is. According to the article, which only provides a "snapshot" of the issue, HHS looked at 138 teens and identified 39 with gang ties. Four of them were forced into cooperating with the gangs, while 35 voluntarily joined, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Some 2,233 are being held in unsecured facilities.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was shocked that no one from HHS could provide cogent data as to how many UACs have actually been recruited by MS-13 and other Central American gangs.

"It is well known that MS-13 actively targets and recruits children as young as eight years old," said Grassley. "While their illegal status and Central American heritage are a key factor in MS-13's targeting, without a doubt the failures of the current system for handling these children are also to blame."

Grassley went on to say in a statement on his website that the disconnect between the arrival and placement policies and the lack of adequate follow-up are putting American communities in danger:

This precarious combination of events — trafficking to and apprehension at the United States border, and placement with inappropriate sponsors — makes UACs vulnerable to gang recruitment. With promises of a cultural community and an escape from often harrowing and isolating living conditions at home, MS-13 has become an attractive option for too many minors. In spite of ample evidence that UACs are a prime target for MS-13 recruitment, none of the government agencies here today have any statistics about how many of the more than 10,000 gang members in our country entered and were recruited as UACs.

The Center for Immigration Studies has been highlighting this specter for some eight months and until the federal government can revamp this system, there should be a moratorium on further placements of UACs into the heartland, where more than 120 communities have been affected by MS-13 crime consistent with the placement of UACs. This will be discussed in an upcoming CIS report.

For instance, Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, N.Y., have experienced exponential increases in MS-13 crime over the past two years. They are among the most concentrated areas in the United States for UAC placement. Earlier this month, there were two much-heralded law enforcement raids netting more than 80 gang members. However, these strides are tempered by the reality that between October 1 and April 30, there were 1,587 UACs placed in the two suburban New York City counties. So if a third of these UACs potentially are or can be recruited to join MS-13, that negates the suppression efforts of the recent arrests and provides a net addition to their ranks in an unintended backfill of potential members.

"The end result of the government's total failure to establish an efficient process and meaningful oversight of the placement of these children has led to the current MS-13 crisis," Grassley said.

Grassley hopes the June 21 hearing is a first step in plotting a path forward to end it.