Why We Don’t Immediately Send the Border Kids Back

A 2008 law is one big factor in the child-migrant crisis. One of the architects of the measure explains why it was needed.

A child on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border fence looks into Arizona during a special 'Mass on the Border' on April 1, 2014 in Nogales, Arizona.
John Moore AFP/Getty
Brian Resnick
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
July 8, 2014, 7:03 p.m.

Rep. Mike Ro­gers had an idea for how to deal with the 90,000 un­ac­com­pan­ied minors ex­pec­ted to cross the U.S. bor­der this year. “Why aren’t we put­ting them on a bus like we nor­mally do and send­ing them back down to Guatem­ala?” he said to Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son last month at a hear­ing on the child-mi­grant crisis lap­ping at our bor­der.

“The law that was cre­ated in 2008 re­quires that we turn these kids over—if they are un­ac­com­pan­ied—to the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices with­in 72 hours gen­er­ally,” John­son replied. “So that’s what we do.”

Ro­gers was part of that very 110th Con­gress that passed the Wil­li­am Wil­ber­force Traf­fick­ing Vic­tims Pro­tec­tion Reau­thor­iz­a­tion Act in 2008 by un­an­im­ous con­sent, no less. The act did many things to com­bat hu­man traf­fick­ing world­wide—in­clud­ing provid­ing as­sist­ance to for­eign gov­ern­ments to com­bat ab­use and in­creas­ing pen­al­ties for traf­fick­ing crimes. A small por­tion of the bill con­cerned ad­ded pro­tec­tions for un­ac­com­pan­ied chil­dren cross­ing the U.S. bor­der. Spe­cific­ally, kids from non­con­tigu­ous coun­tries would be trans­ferred to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment for care and pro­cessing. HHS would then be au­thor­ized to ap­point ad­voc­ates for the chil­dren and could work to unite the kids with fam­il­ies or place them in foster care.

“This bill is ne­ces­sary,” Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein said on the Sen­ate floor in 2008, “be­cause every year, more than 7,000 un­doc­u­mented and un­ac­com­pan­ied chil­dren are ap­pre­hen­ded in the United States or at our bor­ders.” But the law didn’t fore­see the in­flux of 90,000 of those chil­dren. And a sys­tem that was de­signed to be in­ten­tion­ally slower is now caus­ing a bot­tle­neck.

“We wer­en’t ne­ces­sar­ily giv­ing new im­mig­ra­tion status to any­one,” Dav­id Ab­ramow­itz, former chief coun­sel for the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee who helped craft the le­gis­la­tion, says now. “We were just try­ing to provide mech­an­isms to pro­tect chil­dren to en­sure they were handled prop­erly when they were in the United States.”

Be­fore 2008, DHS had handled un­ac­com­pan­ied minors cross­ing the bor­der. But “there was a be­lief by the ad­voc­ates that these kids were handled in a very sum­mary fash­ion,” Ab­ramow­itz says. “Be­cause they were chil­dren—and in many cases very un­aware of what was hap­pen­ing to them—they didn’t have a way of ask­ing for re­lief that might ac­tu­ally have been avail­able to them un­der ex­ist­ing law in the United States…. DHS was not provid­ing the kind of sup­port or coun­cil that would al­low them to ad­voc­ate for them­selves.”

The sys­tem was thus slowed down, so the minors wouldn’t be sent im­me­di­ately back in­to dan­ger­ous situ­ations. It was out of pre­cau­tion. “We knew that not all these kids were traf­ficked,” Ab­ramow­itz says. “We wanted to pre­vent them from be­ing traf­ficked once they got here and pro­tect them from ex­ploit­a­tion.”

In a re­cent in­ter­view with the Los Angeles Times, former Rep. Howard Ber­man, the spon­sor of that 2008 meas­ure, said he and the oth­er au­thors of the law didn’t fore­see the cur­rent situ­ation. “Ob­vi­ously this par­tic­u­lar res­ult was not an­ti­cip­ated,” Ber­man said.

“I think the sys­tem was built with this six-, sev­en-, eight-thou­sand num­ber in mind,” Ab­ramow­itz says. “Re­mem­ber, this bill went through a bunch of ups and down but at the end of the day passed by un­an­im­ous con­sent in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, which is very un­usu­al for this ma­jor piece of le­gis­la­tion. And passed by un­an­im­ous con­sent by the Sen­ate all with­in a 24-hour peri­od. So there was a lot of con­sensus that this was the right ap­proach. Would that be true if we were fa­cing this in­creas­ing wave, I don’t know, but maybe this is­sue would have been looked at dif­fer­ently.”

What We're Following See More »
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
12 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

THE QUESTION
How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
19 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

Source:
WEEKEND DATA DUMP
State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.

Source:
×