The Tennessean, September 27, 2021
There has always been a stream of unaccompanied children (UC) illegally crossing the border.
Twenty years ago it was less than one tenth the size it is now. In the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2021 75,165 have been resettled around the U.S., already an all-time high for annual UC admissions.
Without changes these numbers will go up drastically from this highwater mark.
Tennessee is among the top 10 destinations for unaccompanied children.
The children, who are under 18, go into a program of the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). This program transports the children from the border to their destination, usually a relative, many of whom also crossed the border illegally at an earlier time.
No one is told in advance where the children are headed, not local school districts, which must provide education for the children; not medical service providers. COVID is raging in immigrant detention centers; not law enforcement – an ORR study in 2017 showed 1.6% of the UCs in its care are active gang members.
In 2018, 42% of the minors joined a presumed parent in the U.S. and 47% joined a presumed relative such as a sibling or uncle. It is “presumed” because DNA verification is not required to verify relationships.
A senior Border Patrol official, speaking anonymously, states that DNA tests are rarely done. 11% joined a distant relative or unrelated adult. This latter group generally goes into taxpayer-funded foster care. Foster care for these children pays at a higher rate than it does for citizen children.
A direct outgrowth of illegal immigration with adults paying smugglers to get their children over the border, today it is also driven by the simple fact that it is comparatively easy for certain unaccompanied minors to just walk in.
Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to much bipartisan fanfare in 2008, thinking it was fighting the global traffic in sex slaves, many of them children.
Within a few years it was obviously malfunctioning and having an effect exactly the opposite of what was intended. By 2014, the Washington Post was opining that: “Inadvertently, that law has encouraged thousands of Central American children to try to reach the United States by granting them access to immigration courts that Mexican kids don’t enjoy."
Even President Obama favored changes to the law which would have hastened deportations but later backed down.
Mark Green's Migrant Accountability Act offers a solution
Perhaps in a nod to the possibility of a true “open floodgates” event, Congress closed certain doors to Mexican children that it left open to the rest of the world when it passed the William Wilberforce Act.
If DHS encounters an unaccompanied child from any country except Canada or Mexico, it must transfer the child within 72 hours to ORR. Children from contiguous countries can be sent back home within 48 hours, after determining the child does not fear going home.
The “open floodgates” event happened with Central American kids and the rest of the world. Today, the greatest beneficiaries of the Wilberforce Act are human smugglers and its victims are children.
Congress must act to fix the deficiencies in current law.
Rep Mark Green’s bill H.R. 4201, the Migrant Accountability Act of 2021, requires immigration authorities to treat all UC border crossers the same way it treats those from Mexico.
It also gives governors authority to stop placement in their states of intake centers, such as the Chattanooga facility operated by federal contactor The Baptiste Group. It allows governors to refuse settlement of UC’s as foster care children in their state. DNA testing must be used to verify the placement of a child with a relative. Importantly, the bill returns responsibility for the UCs to immigration authorities in DHS.
H.R. 4201, though unlikely to get traction in the current Congress, provides practical solutions to obvious problems in our immigration system.
Hopefully, it will get the consideration it deserves. The issues it raises must be addressed one way or the other.