There has been a lot of media coverage of—and some misinformation on—the approximately 1,500 children that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) hasn’t been able to keep track of. Many folks are conflating this issue with the family separation policy instituted recently by the Trump administration as it seeks to prosecute 100% of parents encountered at the border. These are two separate issues, and in fact, it is likely that the so-called “lost” children are not really lost at all and their situation is not linked to family separation. Some good articles on the subject include:
My colleague Christina Brown recently posted on Facebook about the unaccompanied children and their circumstances. Her words (shared with her permission), which help put this recent coverage into perspective, ring true:
“What I want to say today is that I find the narrative around these children frustrating and disheartening…are 1,500 children missing? No. There are many reasons the government could be pushing this narrative, including wanting to amend laws that currently permit us to reunite children with family members/sponsors instead of holding them in detention for the entirety of their cases. The Trump administration wants to keep them detained, locked up like animals, and forced to complete their cases without legal assistance or resources…”
This seems very possible to me. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA)—which codified the laws to which Christina refers—is something the administration has railed against time and time again. It is a law–that passed unanimously with bipartisan support–to help protect children from human traffickers and to help ensure that unaccompanied children have fair access to the U.S. immigration system. We should preserve and strengthen this Act, not undermine it.
Christina goes on to touch on something I often wonder about when it comes to immigration issues that boil up in the news…are people getting outraged about the right thing? About enough of the right things? “The reality is that these children fled really horrific violence. They came here, alone, on a journey that is devastating and dangerous and they took that risk knowingly because the risk at home was far worse for them. Once here, some had the opportunity to reunite with family friends, family, even parents for some of these children, while they seek legal relief from removal…These children are fleeing death, forced recruitment into criminal organizations where they may be forced to kill someone, threats against their family, rape…The governments of their countries do not care at all about whether they are murdered, tortured, disappeared, recruited, mutilated, abused. The government sometimes does the abusing and torturing. They come to the US for protection, where we detain them, vilify them, and ultimately send many back home to die. Where is the sympathy for that reality?
The ACLU has documented PHYSICAL abuse of these children by CBP agents. They have documented cases where children are threatened with sexual abuse by CBP. Where is the sympathy, compassion, and outrage for that issue?”
I completely agree.
She concludes, “These children do not need to be “lost” by the government to deserve your sympathy. They need your outrage and your action on many issues related to their safety. Please don’t let them down.”
This is a hugely important point. Is it good that the public is caring about these kids? Yes. All of us should. But we don’t understand the circumstances each of them is facing and we must be careful not to lose the forest through the trees. What affects all of them, and all of us, is that the administration has engaged in a callous, systematic disregard for those seeking asylum at our southern border and a disdain for the principles of due process that are the foundation of our legal system. This is what we must focus on and stand against.
To that end, AILA members, here are resources from the Immigration Justice Campaign designed to help you be the best advocate for your clients – a Fearless Lawyer. Call or email Congress and tell them to stand up for these kids, for all immigrants actually, and combat the inhumane policies of the Trump administration detailed in the Cogs in the Deportation Machine report. Go further and tell them to fight back against the war being waged on legal immigrants with the Invisible Wall being built. Educate yourself, as a lawyer and an advocate.
Non-AILA members – do the same! Channel your outrage into constructive action, whether calling or emailing Congress, volunteering, fundraising, or similar. Together we can make a difference.