What You’ve Heard About ‘Missing Immigrant Children’ Is Probably False

What You’ve Heard About ‘Missing Immigrant Children’ Is Probably False

'The assertion that unaccompanied alien children are ‘lost’ is false. This is a classic example of the adage ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’'
Margot Cleveland
By

In their continuing coordinated effort to criticize all things Trump, the mainstream media has unwittingly dragged illegal aliens out of the shadows — and into the sight of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Now open-border activists are telling the press to pipe down because the attention is both unwarranted and unwanted.

The negative coverage began following the April 26, 2018, testimony by Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, before a Senate subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs. During the hearing, Wagner, who oversees the work of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which in turn holds responsibility for the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children (UAC), detailed the current state of the UAC program, as well as improved policies implemented since February 2016.

While Wagner catalogued the many improvements implemented by ORR, what caught the media’s attention was this passage:

“From October to December 2017, ORR attempted to reach 7,635 UAC and their sponsors. Of this number, ORR reached and received agreement to participate in the safety and well-being call from approximately 86 percent of sponsors. From these calls, ORR learned that 6,075 UAC remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight UAC had run away, five had been removed from the United States, and 52 had relocated to live with a non-sponsor. ORR was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 UAC.”

In its typical sensationalist manner, the media translated this passage to mean 1,475 children are missing, their locations unknown and the government is unable to find them. Reporters then attempted to connect the most recent statistics of “missing” minors to the ten victims of trafficking discovered in 2014 in a raid in Ohio. At that time, Frontline’s exposé, Trafficked in America, revealed that the Obama administration’s HHS had released several minors to traffickers “due to policies and procedures that were ‘inadequate to protect the children in the agency’s care.’”

Wagner’s testimony sought to update the sub-committee on ORR’s new policies, which included requiring case managers to:  “verify a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child;” “interview prospective sponsors;” “conduct background checks on all prospective sponsors;” “coordinate fingerprint checks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database for non-parental sponsors, or for parental sponsors where there is a documented risk to the safety of the child, the child is especially vulnerable,” and “require sponsors to sign a Sponsor Care Agreement.”

But focusing on those improvements didn’t serve the Left’s anti-Trump purpose, so instead the narrative ran that the Trump Administration lost nearly 1,500 minors and they were at risk of being victims of traffickers. What liberals didn’t realize, however, was the impact of pushing the “1,500 missing minors” storyline. In a Sunday night Twitter thread, Josie Duffy Rice, a lawyer, senior strategist with the Fair Punishment Project, and a former staff writer at Daily Kos laid it out beautifully. After making a pleading “public service announcement,” “PLEASE STOP SHARING THAT STORY ABOUT 1500 KIDS MISSING,” Duffy Rice explained:

“The potential for it backfiring is real. What we’re demanding is that ORR, which works hand in hand with ICE, ‘keep better track’ of kids they basically would like to deport if giving the chance. We don’t want that!!!  You’re asking immigration authorities in TRUMPS AMERICA to BETTER MONITOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES. You don’t want this. I promise you don’t.  I get it. It sounds awful. But at WORST it’s benign. At best, it’s a good thing that ORR doesn’t know where these kids are. There’s a reason. We actually now have pretty strict requirements before we release these kids. They aren’t all being trafficked. They aren’t dead.”

But what about the 1,500 “missing kids?” Duffy Rice wrote:

“[It] is a result of a total misinterpretation. The ORR didn’t attempt to find the unaccompanied minors. … HHS made a cursory reach out to check on these kids, and couldn’t find out where they were exactly. When I say cursory I mean cursory. We’re talking about phone calls. Phone calls!! Like, no door knocks. No checking school records. They called. They didn’t find answers. There are so many reasons people wouldn’t answer. Maybe these kids are living with someone undocumented. Maybe they aren’t but their sponsor is (legitimately) completely scared of immigration authorities in trumps America. They aren’t missing! They are almost certainly living with family members who almost certainly don’t want to interact with the government and WE SHOULDN’T ASK THEM TO.”

Had the press done their due diligence, they would have reached the same conclusion. But instead, in a hurry to tarnish Trump, the media portrayed the minors as missing. Eric Hargan, the Deputy Secretary of HHS, confirmed the media’s misrepresentation, stating:

The assertion that unaccompanied alien children are ‘lost’ is false. This is a classic example of the adage ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ The ORR began voluntarily making calls in 2016 as a 30-day follow-up on the release of the unaccompanied alien children to make sure that [they] and their sponsors did not require additional services. This additional step, which is not required and was not done previously, is now being used to confuse and spread misinformation.”

… These children are not ‘lost’. Their sponsors — who are usually parents or family members and, in all cases, have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them — simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made. While there are many possible reasons for this, in many cases sponsors cannot be reached because they themselves are illegal aliens and do not want to be reached by federal authorities.

The media also ignored the other interesting tidbit the hearing unearthed: More than 50 percent of unaccompanied minors never show up for their immigration hearings even though their sponsor is responsible for assuring they do. When questioned on this fact, Wagner explained that his office does not track immigration proceedings.

Also, until recently, when illegal immigrants were a no-show for removal proceedings, the Obama administration preferred to “administratively close” the case, rather than enforce immigration law. “Administrative closure” removes an immigration case from the court’s docket, effectively allowing an “illegal alien to remain indefinitely in the United States without any formal legal status.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced an end to that practice, though, which will mean that the government will likely soon find many of those “missing” minors. While the open-border crowd might not like that outcome, law-abiding Americans should.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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