After admitting that it’s lost track of an estimated 1,500 undocumented children, the United States is saying that it’s not ‘legally responsible’ for the oversight.
The disturbing figure was revealed by a Department of Homeland Security official in an April hearing. Steven Wagner—the agency’s acting assistant secretary—said the Office of Refugee Resettlement attempted to reach 7,635 children and their sponsors in 2017
But conversations and follow-ups with individuals listed as sponsors revealed that only 6,075 of the children were still where they were supposed to be. Twenty-eight, writes The Washington Post, had run away, five were deported, and 52 had moved in with unauthorized relatives or acquaintances.
The remaining 1,475 children had effectively disappeared, their locations unknown to the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the Post, academics and experts worry that some of the kids could have run afoul of human traffickers and criminals.
“Children arriving at the U.S. border in search of asylum are frequently a particularly vulnerable population,” wrote University of California – Los Angeles professors Jaana Juvonen and Jennifer Silvers. “In many cases fleeing violence and persecution, they also encounter hunger, illness and threats of physical harm along their hazardous journey to the border. This combination of experiences puts migrant children at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder rand depression.”
Despite the consequence of the harsh journey from Central America into the United States, the Trump administration has taken a hard stand on immigrants, regardless of their age and origin. Top government officials have defended—and, in some cases, advocated—the use of family separation as a tactic in deterring illegal immigration.
Earlier in May, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was asked if tearing away children from their parents at the border served as a ‘tough deterrent’ to prospective aliens—and whether the strategy should be considered ‘heartless and cruel.’
“I wouldn’t quite put it that way,” said Kelly. “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.
“But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and that is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
President Trump has frequently accused of immigrants from certain countries of being predisposed to violence or other illicit activities. Children, claims the commander-in-chief, are ‘exploiting’ America’s immigration laws whether they arrive as refugees or under the arms of mothers and fathers.
“They look so innocent,” said President Trump. “They’re not innocent.”
For better or worse, the Trump administration’s desire to combat illegal immigration hasn’t translated to an effective system for enforcement—or a desire to take responsibility for its moral and ethical shortcomings.
“I understand that it has been HHS’s long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care,” said Wagner at a Senate hearing.
Wagner’s comments, report CNN, have only recently begun attracting attention from critics and the mainstream press.