Illegal Alien Youths at Risk, Redux

By W.D. Reasoner on July 6, 2012

A few days after the Obama administration announced its decision to suspend deportation of young illegal aliens, the Center published a blog I had written expressing concern that the policy might, as an unintended consequence, put additional youths at risk by encouraging parents to send them on the perilous journey across our border illegally, at the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.

On July 3, NBC Nightly News did a pair of news pieces on the disturbing rise in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended after crossing the border illegally — they've more than doubled. For October 2010 through May 2011, NBC cited DHS statistics showing 4,016 such apprehensions. From October 2011 through May 2012, the figure rose to 8,327.

The U.S. Border Patrol has traditionally estimated that it catches only perhaps one in three border crossers. If that estimate holds true for unaccompanied minors, then the true figure for the most recent six-month period would be closer to 24,000 than 8,000. What happened to those who weren't caught? Who knows? Perhaps some made it successfully to their destinations; perhaps some died in the desert from heat prostration and lack of hydration. This is a difficult thing to contemplate.

An interesting parenthetical to this pair of news items is that the officials who were interviewed by the reporter about the rise in unaccompanied minor border crossings were local law enforcement officers. Let me repeat that: local law enforcement officers — the Chief of Police of Edinburgh, Texas, and the Chief Deputy Sheriff of Brooks County, Texas. They and their officers perform this essential immigration enforcement function because, being proximate to the border, it is unthinkable that they could do otherwise. The border, and border crime, form part of the fabric of their lives. And they do so routinely with no fanfare because it is the right thing to do. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently said, in a different context, "What's the big deal?" To me, it puts context behind the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Arizona peace officers' right to query individuals about their immigration status when done in the course of their duties.

It is also worth noting that both of these officials are Hispanic-surnamed. And why should they not be? That is often the face of law enforcement, including Border Patrol officers, today. This is worth thinking about when considering the claims of detractors who assert that local officers involved in immigration enforcement matters as a part of their duties will act improperly, or with ethnic or racial bias. There is no reason to think that they will.

But going back to the news items: The timeframe is wrong, of course, to blame this rise of unaccompanied minor crossings on the recent administration announcement — not nearly enough time has passed to see what effect it will have. NBC News ascribes the increase to children fleeing from drugs and gangs. But I know of no empirical data to support this assertion. In fact, crossing the border is so perilous that such children often play right into the hands of drug smugglers and gangs who use them as mules, press them into prostitution, or extort their families for additional money to release them safely once on the U.S. side of the border. So there are significant reasons to doubt this explanation.

However, one might just as reasonably tie the rise in crossings to the timeframe when many politicians and special interest groups were loudly touting for passage of the now-failed DREAM Act — a message heard loud and clear by parents and youth in the many countries south of our border, one that they felt they could not fail to heed, for fear of missing the chance.

The laws of human dynamics seem to me to be much akin to the laws of physics — actions (and words) inevitably beget reactions. When politicians and public opinion leaders on this side of the border make bold statements about immigration policies or amnesties that are tantamount to promises they almost certainly cannot keep, they must remember that they are not only speaking to a domestic audience. They are also speaking to millions upon millions of individuals on the other side of the border; individuals who will take their cues from what they hear and act upon it, no matter how amplified and distorted it becomes by the time they hear it.

The result, as I said before, is bound to invoke the rule of unintended consequences. Meantime, we will wait and see what the numbers show a year from now.