On Thursday night when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden angrily accused President Trump of a “criminal” family separation policy that had “lost track” of more than 500 migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border, he was repeating an inaccurate and misleading news report that had circulated earlier this week.
“What happened? Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated and now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone,” Biden said. “Nowhere to go, nowhere to go. It’s criminal.”
The former vice president was likely relying on a brief report from NPR about the latest development in a lawsuit between the ACLU and the Justice Department regarding the status of children who have still not been reunited with their parents after being brought across the border illegally.
The report claims that “the parents of 545 children still can’t be found,” but that’s not quite right. The NPR report omitted a statement issued by Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Chase Jennings explaining that in fact the vast majority of these parents have been found but have refused reunification with their children, which is why the children are still in DHS custody.
“In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin,” Jennings said.
This narrative has been dispelled. In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they've yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin. https://t.co/mZ9DYWWXwP
— DHS Spokesperson (@SpoxDHS) October 21, 2020
Why would these parents refuse to be reunited with their children? Because their children are in the United States, and they are in their country of origin, most likely Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador. They don’t want their children to go back there, they want them in the United States. Many of these parents paid exorbitant amounts of money to get their children smuggled into the U.S., sometimes with adults posing as parents, sometimes unaccompanied and with a larger group of migrants. The whole point was to get their kids into the U.S. by any means necessary, even if it meant being separated.
Indeed, that’s often how “unaccompanied minors” show up on the border; their parents pay smugglers, called “coyotes,” to bring them across illegally, between the legal ports of entry, as part of an agreement with the cartel that controls a particular stretch of the border.
Trump made an allusion to this Thursday night in his response to Biden, referencing coyotes and human smuggling by cartels. The term provoked an embarrassing display of outrage on Twitter from left-wing activists like Jemele Hill and David Hogg and many others who appeared to be completely ignorant of the term—indeed, wholly ignorant of the reality of human smuggling at the border—and thought Trump was using “coyote” as some kind of racial epithet for the parents.
What these left-wing activists and former Vice President Biden have in common is an apparent belief that the border is a simple place and that family reunification a simple task.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Human smuggling happens on an industrial scale along the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars each year for smugglers, corrupt Mexican officials, and drug cartels, which charge a per-person “tax” for every man, woman, and child who crosses the Rio Grande in an area under their jurisdiction.
At the height of the migrant crisis in 2019, the number of family units being apprehended at the border was at an all-time high. Smugglers—coyotes—would bring across large groups, sometimes as many as a thousand people at once, and tell them to turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol claiming asylum. Nothing like this had ever happened before, certainly not on this scale.
When it came to processing these large groups of migrants, many of whom arrived suffering from dehydration and other medical problems after days in the desert, U.S. border officials faced the difficult task of trying to ascertain which adults were actually parents, which were relatives claiming to be parent, and which were unrelated adults posing as parents of children they didn’t know.
Why would adults pose as parents? Because family units are treated differently at the border than single adults, namely, family units are typically held for a short time and then released with orders to appear before an immigration judge at some future date. The Trump administration pursued a disastrous family separation policy for a short time in 2018, which automatically separated all family units caught crossing the border illegally and resulted in some parents being deported to their countries of origin while their children remained in the U.S.
Today, many of those parents simply don’t want their children to return to those countries, where violence and poverty are rampant.
Should the Trump administration have separated families? No. But there’s more to the story than that, and Biden, along with outraged left-wing activists, should take the time to learn about human smuggling at the border and the lengths to which some parents will go to ensure their kids grow up in the United States—even if it means refusing to reunite with them back home.