The Trump administration recently announced a new, get-tough policy that will separate parents from their children if the family is caught crossing the border illegally.
It was a big news story. So big it overshadowed the fact that the federal government has lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children in its custody.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that within 48 hours of being taken into custody the children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which finds places for them to stay.
“They will be separated from their parent,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
“Just like we do in the United States every day,” Nielsen replied.
Except that the states, unlike the federal government, have systems in place to better screen the people who become guardians of the children and much better ways to keep track of those children.
And not lose them.
That is what happened to 1,475 minors swept up at the border and taken into custody by the federal government.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, “It’s just a system that has so many gaps, so many opportunities for these children to fall between the cracks, that we just don’t know what’s going on — how much trafficking or abuse or simply immigration law violations are occurring.”
A documentary from the PBS program Frontline said that the federal government has actually released some of the minors to human traffickers.
And now we want to dramatically ramp up the number of children who are removed from their parents?
When pressed about safety concerns Secretary Nielsen said, “I just want to say, I couldn’t agree with your concerns more, period. We owe more to these children to protect them. So I’m saying I agree, we’ve taken steps and we will continue to strengthen what our partners do to protect these children.”
There are 1,475 reasons not to be reassured by the secretary’s promise.
If anything, it would have been better to have a policy in place, with protections, and safe places to stay, and safe people to stay with, and personnel on the government payroll to check-up on them before the administration’s new policy was implemented.
Secretary Nielsen said, “My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted. If you are parent, or you’re a single person or if you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry we will refer you for prosecution. You have broken U.S. law.”
We all get that. And we all want a secure border. But we don’t want to trade in our humanity in the process.
As Sen. Portman told Frontline, “We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil. And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.”