A father holds his 3-year-old son while he sleeps, having been arrested along with other undocumented immigrants by the Border Patrol on December 7, 2015 near Rio Grande City (Texas). Photo: John Moore / Getty Images.
A father holds his 3-year-old son while he sleeps, having been arrested along with other undocumented immigrants by the Border Patrol on December 7, 2015, near Rio Grande City (Texas). Photo: John Moore / Getty Images.

Federal agency loses 1,475 undocumented children, insists on separating families

The Department of Health and Human Services has lost track of 1,475 undocumented children placed in U.S. guardianship. Even so, the Trump Administration…


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It turns out that President Donald Trump is right about something: there are loopholes in the American immigration system. But contrary to what he says, those who are truly in danger when arriving in the country are undocumented immigrants, especially children.

During the past week, social media spotlighted a major issue: the statement of the official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Steven Wagner before a committee in the Senate, where he testified that the federal agency "lost track of 1,475 children who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on their own (that is, unaccompanied by adults) and subsequently were placed with adult sponsors in the United States."

According to the information published by the Associated Press, between the months of October and December 2017, "HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors," and it was discovered that only 6,075 of them were still living with their guardians, 28 had run away, 5 were deported and 52 lived with someone else. According to the report, the whereabouts of the remaining 1,475 of them is unknown.

The news went unnoticed in most media until, on the eve of the celebration of the International Missing Children's Day, the columnist E.J. Montini published an article in USA Today denouncing that the federal agency would have "lost" a large number of immigrant children.

Who is really responsible?

While the 1,475 lost children were unaccompanied upon arrival in U.S. territory, HHS handed these children over to "responsible" adults, or sponsors. However, the federal agency did not follow up with these sponsors, allowing the children to disappear in the process.

In his defense, on Monday night, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan issued a statement assuring that the claims of the "loss" of unaccompanied children (UAC) were "completely false".

Hargan said that once sponsors declared "no need for additional resources," the kids were handed over and that. Additionally, in situations where follow-up measures have been taken, HHS has not received a response in many cases from these sponsors who “themselves are illegal aliens and do not want to be reached by federal authorities”.

Cruelty as a strategy

For Montini, the announcement of the new measures of "separation of families" at the border by the Trump Administration may have drawn media attention from these lost children, even though the strategy could have impacted the increase in child disappearances.

This was shown by the responses of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to the question of California Democratic Senator Kamala D. Harris regarding the protocol that the administration intends to carry out once they separate the children from their parents.

"The child, under law, goes to HHS for care and custody," Nielsen responded, reiterating the fears of activists and organizations that foresee the disappearance of many more children to the hands of human trafficking, and thanks to these loopholes.

For example, in one of the PBS Frontline research videos, the Investigative Reporting Program of UC Berkeley demonstrated how failures in the U.S. immigration system allowed a group of Guatemalan teenagers to "work against their will" on an egg farm in Ohio.

For Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, these conditions are "modern-day slavery."

"These children, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked," Portman said during Wagner's hearing, the Washington Post reported. "This is all about accountability." 

However, for the administration the reasoning is one-sided: the bad guys come from outside and their flow must be stopped one way or another.

That is why, for both Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, measures such as family separation should work as "deterrence," in an attempt to intimidate people who plan to illegally cross the border.

According to the White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, "(immigrants) are coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. But a big name in the game is deterrence," he said during an interview with NPR.

Turning back the tide

Finally, it seems that President Trump has not received the memo of his administration's decisions since during the weekend he accused the Democratic Party of being responsible for the family separation measures.



He also asked for a bipartisan bill, even though he has rejected any proposal that does not include his wall, putting the lives of 800,000 undocumented young people also at risk.


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