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 »
ON GUN RIGHTS
Trump Jr. Meeting with GOP Members
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
FLOPPY DISKS
US Nukes Rely on Decades-Old Tech
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS
‘NO BASIS IN LAW’
Eleven States Sue Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Access
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

The great restroom war of 2016 continues apace, as eleven states have sued the Obama administration in federal court, claiming its federal guidance on how schools should accommodate transgender students "has no basis in law." "The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The lawsuit argues that the federal government has worked to turn workplaces and schools 'into laboratories for a massive social experiment.'"

Source:
NEXT STOP: THE FLOOR
Puerto Rico Debt Bill Passes House Committee
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

By a 29-10 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee today passed the bill to allow Puerto Rico to restructure its $70 billion in debt. The legislation "would establish an oversight board to help the commonwealth restructure its un-payable debt and craft an economic recovery plan."

Source:
WITHIN 15 DAYS OF NOMINATION
Wyden Bill Would Make Nominees’ Tax Disclosures Mandatory
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Though every major party nominee since 1976 has released his tax returns while running for president, the practice has never been required by law. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wants to change that. The senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which handles tax issues, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would force presidential candidates to release their most recent tax returns. The Presidential Tax Transparency Act, as the bill is called, would require candidates to make their latest three years of tax returns public no later than 15 days after becoming the nominee."

Source:
×