#WhereAreTheChildren? The Kids Are Alright

In May 28, 2018
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We’ve seen a week of mass hysteria, propagated by many well-intentioned people, about how the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) lost around 1,500 migrant kids due to new policy whereby children are separated from their families at the border.

Lets get one thing out of the way: This is not true.

The so-called “missing children” — unaccompanied minors released from ORR custody — have nothing to do with the separation of migrant families at the border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a despicable practice.

First, it is doubtful that the these unaccompanied minor children are actually missing. The 1,500 figure was cited by Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), when he testified before Congress. He cited that the agency could not reach the 1,475 unaccompanied minor children who had come to the United States on their own, released from custody and placed with adult sponsors in the United States. Most adult sponsors are parents, family members or relatives of the children. These sponsors have no obligation to keep in touch with ORR or report to them once the children are released to their custody. Maybe they moved, and did not provide an updated address or phone number. Maybe they just did not return the calls from ORR trying to detect them. Maybe they went underground to protect the children. And even if they were missing from the Trump Administration’s enforcement machine, that is generally a good thing. Calling on them to be found is literally putting more migrant lives at risk because these children are often released to family members or relatives who do not have immigration status in the United States.

Now, are kids sometimes released to relatives who are abusive? Yes. Do the unaccompanied minors come under the custody of people who only take care of them for a while before kicking them out? Perhaps. But these are a different set of concerns generally applicable to the foster care system that has little correlation with the hype over “missing children.”

A well-intentioned uproar over so-called missing children may lead to worse consequences for the children who do come into ORR custody now after being separated from their parents. Hysterically talking about missing children feeds into the Trump Administration’s propaganda and justifies efforts to do stringent background checks on adult sponsors, which does not help with the speedy release of children from the Trump Administration’s baby jails. Basically, panic over these not-actually missing children will allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to overturn rules that keep them from imprisoning unaccompanied minors for longer than 72 hours. That’s actually not what we want or need right now.

Long story short, the 1,500 migrant kids are probably alright. These children by most accounts have been released to family members or other guardians entrusted to care for them. The children we should be most concerned about are those that DHS is forcibly separating from their parents or guardians and imprisoning when they arrive here seeking safety from the violence they have fled in their home countries. That’s hundreds of children who will suffer trauma and be vulnerable to abuse and violence at the hands of the Trump Administration. They should be able to count on us to get it right.

Immigration Attorney

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