Deportation Data Won’t Dispel Rumors Drawing Migrant Minors to U.S.

Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2014

President Obama and his aides have repeatedly sought to dispel the rumors driving thousands of children and teens from Central America to cross the U.S. border each month with the expectation they will be given a permiso and allowed to stay.

But under the Obama administration, those reports have proved increasingly true.

The number of immigrants under 18 who were deported or turned away at ports of entry fell from 8,143 in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 1,669 last year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data released under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Similarly, about 600 minors were ordered deported each year from nonborder states a decade ago. Ninety-five were deported last year, records show, even as a flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America–five times more than two years earlier–began pouring across the Southwest border.

The previously unavailable deportation data are likely to fuel the political debate over whether Obama administration policies are partly responsible for the 52,000 children and teens who have surrendered to or been caught by Border Patrol agents since last October, spurring fresh concerns about U.S. border security and immigration law.

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Obama administration officials deny that lenient policies–including a 2012 program that allowed immigrants who had entered the country illegally as minors before June 2007 to apply for deportation deferrals–have encouraged the sudden surge.

They instead blame a 2008 law signed by Bush that made it nearly impossible to repatriate unaccompanied minors to Central America without letting them appear before an immigration judge.

A mounting backlog in immigration courts since then has allowed most Central American minors to stay for years while their cases wend their way through the legal system. Once they are assigned to social workers, as the law requires, the overwhelming majority are sent to live with their parents or relatives in the United States, officials said.

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Obama last week asked Congress to change the 2008 law to give the head of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, greater discretion to send children back to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras more quickly.

But Obama is likely to face stiff opposition from fellow Democrats, who have vowed to block narrow changes to immigration laws. Senate Democrats overwhelmingly backed a comprehensive immigration bill last summer only to see the measure die in the GOP-led House.

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{snip} For most of the last decade, U.S. agents apprehended fewer than 4,000 ‎unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras each year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.

‎The total jumped to 10,146 in fiscal year 2012. It doubled to 20,805 last fiscal year. It nearly doubled again, to 39,133, between last October and June 15 this year.

The number of unaccompanied Mexican minors apprehended dropped for several years, but rose from 13,974 in 2012 to 17,240 last year. Most are bused back, although some are permitted to seek asylum.

The deportation data released to The Times do not distinguish between children who entered the U.S. with a parent and those who came alone and are less likely to be sent back. Children who arrived alone but turned 18 during deportation proceedings are counted as adults.

The figures also don’t include Mexican children who were turned back at the border by Border Patrol agents, as the law allows in their cases.

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When Congress returns from the holiday weekend on Monday, the Obama administration will ask lawmakers to appropriate more than $2 billion to cover the mounting costs of the crisis, including more staff for border stations, more detention facilities and more social workers.

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