Unaccompanied Alien Children and the Crisis at the Border

Andrew R. Arthur, Center for Immigration Sturdies, April 1, 2019

Summary

The number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) apprehended entering illegally along the Southwest border, which had bottomed out in April 2017 following the inauguration of Donald Trump, surged almost 685 percent by February 2019. Similarly, the number of UACs deemed inadmissible at the ports of entry along that border surged 385 percent between March 2017 and February 2019.

Those UACs, and migrants from Central America (from which most of the UACs hail) generally, face great dangers in traveling to the United States. In May 2017, Doctors Without Borders (commonly known by its French acronym “MSF”) reported that more than two-thirds of the migrant and refugee populations entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States and that almost one-third of women surveyed had been sexually abused during that trip. The United Nations has also reported that the smuggling of aliens is big business for criminal organizations, valued at $3.7 to $4.2 billion a year. The processing of those migrants has in addition placed a huge burden on the Border Patrol, both in terms of manpower and in financial costs for humanitarian aid.

Flawed U.S. laws and policies encourage UACs to make that trip to the United States, and encourage the parents and other relatives of those UACs to pay criminal organizations to bring them to this country. In particular, by law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to turn all of those UACs from non-contiguous countries (that is every country other than Canada and Mexico) over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 48 hours of the point at which they were identified as UACs, for prompt placement in the least restrictive setting “that is in the best interest of the child”. In FY 2018, the average UAC spent 60 days in an ORR shelter before being released.

Generally, most are released to a parent or other family member in this country, the majority of whom do not have lawful status in the United States. This legal requirement makes the U.S. government a de facto co-conspirator with the smuggling organizations. Not surprisingly, the number of UACs from those non-contiguous countries (especially the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) has surged in recent years as family members in the United States and UACs have exploited this loophole.

Those UACs are supposed to subsequently appear for removal proceedings in immigration court after release, but often failed to do so. In fact, in half of all case completions involving UACs, the alien failed to appear for court, compared to an already high average of 25 percent for aliens generally.

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[Editor’s Note: The original story contains the full report at no charge, along with supporting footnotes.]

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