Feds Lose Track of Most Border-Surge Teens After Release

By Jessica M. Vaughan on November 5, 2015

New information from a variety of sources further demonstrates that the Obama administration's handling of the continuing influx of illegal Central American family and youth border-crossers has been nothing short of a disaster. Government agencies and NGO contractors have lost track of most of the youth who have been released (or escaped) from shelters. Immigration court records show that about half of the "unaccompanied" alien children (UACs) do not appear for immigration court hearings. A recent murder of one UAC in Virginia by three others is a reminder that some of the kids are involved in gangs. And, because we let them, they keep coming; the number of new arrivals spiked again at the end of the summer, with twice as many Central American youth and families arriving in September 2015 as arrived in September 2014.

No single government agency has been given the responsibility for tracking the UAC and family arrivals. As a result, the statistics that have been published by different sources may have slightly different numbers, depending on the time period covered and how they are counted.

In a recent webinar hosted by the Migration Policy Institute, the director of a legal services organization stated that 77,824 UACs had been released into the United States since October 1, 2014 (not counting the approximately 40,000 who arrived in 2012 and 2013). Most are turned over to their parents, but many are released to the custody of a sponsor — sometimes a relative, but often a "friend", foster family, or group home run by a government contractor.

In July, federal agents arrested a group of farm labor contractors running a smuggling ring for Guatemalan minors who were then put to work in harsh conditions at an Ohio egg farm. Those who come forward as sponsors are rarely screened, and so some UACs have been released to child molesters and abusers.

Others have run away from the temporary shelters or group homes. In October, four Honduran teenagers escaped from a shelter in Tucson, leading local officials to complain about the lack of transparency and oversight. Last year, two Guatemalan teenagers fled a shelter in Illinois and committed a carjacking in California that led to their re-capture.

On October 1, 2015, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which coordinates the UAC releases, began having contractors try to telephone the UACs to determine how they are faring. Speaking in the webinar, a representative of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), one of the largest contractors involved in resettling the youths, was skeptical that many of the teenagers would be reached, saying that in her organization's experience, the teenage UACs will not be interested in further contact, and that many are not living with their original sponsor anyway, even if it was a parent, due to "family breakdown". Let's hope (and ask) that ORR will share its findings with the public.

The LIRS representative said that only 35 percent of the UACs bothered to attend their legal orientation program. This suggests that few have been truly interested in seeking legal status and understand that they can get along fine without it.

New statistics from the immigration courts confirm trends reported earlier showing that about half (48 percent) of the UACs are skipping out on their hearings, as detailed in the table below. In total, 60 percent of those whose cases are completed have been ordered deported, but only a small number have actually been deported, probably fewer than 4,000 (the exact figure has never been disclosed and may not be known).


Outcome of UAC Immigration Proceedings: October 1, 2013 - August 31, 2015


Total Cases Filed     84,820
Cases Completed     29,307
  Ordered Removed    
    In Person 3,360
    In Absentia 14,024
  Permitted to Stay    
    Granted Status 313
    Administratively Closed or Terminated* 11,610
Cases Still Pending     55,513

* These are primarily cases in which the UAC has applied for or has been approved for asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. It has been reported that approximately two-thirds have applied for asylum and one-third have applied for SIJS.

Three of the UACs who reportedly failed to appear for their hearings have since come to the attention of the public after their arrest for an apparently gang-related murder of a teenager in Loudoun County, Va. According to a letter sent to DHS from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), three teenagers who had arrived illegally as "unaccompanied minors" in the 2013 summer surge into Texas have been arrested for their participation in the murder of 17-year-old Danny Centeno Miranda, also believed to be a UAC living with his uncle, while he was walking near his school bus stop. Two of the suspects are citizens of El Salvador and believed to be involved with the notorious MS-13 gang, and the shooter, a juvenile, is a citizen of Mexico. According to Grassley, all three reportedly skipped out on their August 2015 immigration court hearings. Grassley is seeking answers from DHS about how these cases were handled, the suspects' criminal and immigration histories, and the sponsors who assumed custody of them.

The resettlement contractors and others who support the administration's catch-and-release policy for the UACs dance around this problem. They are well aware of the risk, but try to avoid using the g-word ("gangs"), in favor of verbal gymnastics like those of the LIRS representative at the MPI webinar, who coyly referred to problems some UACs have from "situations they fled in their home country where there are connections that cross borders that can still be an issue."

Meanwhile, the crisis continues at the border. Border Patrol agent Chris Cabrera, who works in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, where most of the entries occur, told the Senate Homeland Security committee that the total number of 2015 UAC and family arrivals is much lower than 2014, but that should be "no cause for celebration." He pointed out that new arrivals accelerated sharply from July through September of this year. Why? Said Cabrera:

When Border Patrol Agents detain a UAC or family group we interview them and they are typically very forthcoming with us about their motivations for coming. Most believe that they will either not be caught, or even if they are caught, they will not be deported back to their home country. The UACs and family groups we detain are acutely aware of the fact we will not hold them until they are adjudicated. They know that they will be released and issued a Notice to Appear (NTA). What we have right now is essentially a catch and release policy.

Days later, Cabrera's account was confirmed by an intelligence report obtained by the House Judiciary Committee, based on interviews with hundreds of illegal crossers apprehended in late summer. The majority of those interviewed said that they were motivated to come by the understanding that they would be allowed to stay and that they could collect public benefits.

The border surge crisis continues to fester, but has been pushed off the front pages by other issues, including sanctuary cities. It has not been a topic of discussion for presidential candidates of either party, even though they will have to deal with the fallout.