For weeks, the Trump administration has been blasted in mainstream and social media for separating parents and children caught crossing into the U.S. illegally and for allegedly allowing 1,500 minors to go missing, some even into the hands of gangs and human traffickers.
However, a leading immigration expert says parents are responsible for the separation and the Trump administration is actually doing a much more responsible job of tracking kids than previous administrations.
Center for Immigration Studies Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan says adult-child separation is standard operating procedure at the border in several circumstances. In some cases, the adults are not the parents. Some kids are being smuggled and other parents send their kids with other adults to establish a “deportation shield” for them in America.
While all of the above scenarios are on the rise, Vaughan says Trump administration policy is responsible for many of the cases, but only because the administration is enforcing the law.
“The Trump administration, seeing no end in sight to the continued influx from Central America who are coming here illegally and hoping to be released and live here indefinitely, is implementing a zero-tolerance policy. Under the law, people who enter illegally are charged with a crime,” said Vaughan.
She says the decision by parents to illegally enter the U.S. is responsible for separating families.
“The children cannot go to federal detention with them, so they are being put into protective custody, in a system that’s handled by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and cared for until their parents’ criminal prosecution is dealt with,” said Vaughan, who says the families are then reunited, usually for deportation.
While sometimes referred to as “prisons” by the media and certain activist groups, Vaughan says the facilities are more like a group home or dormitory. They learn English, get health care, have recreation time and field trips.
However, relatives who pass federal screening and promise to stay in contact with the government can take these minors into custody.
And that’s where the number of unaccounted minors starts to rise. Vaughan says some of those minors run away from their family members and some of the people taking custody of the children refuse to get back in touch with the government to hide their own questionable status or to keep their young relative in the U.S.
Others, sadly, wind up in the custody of gangs or human traffickers.
Vaughan says the problem accelerated with the perfect storm of a surge in unaccompanied minors over the past few years and lax Obama administration observation of what was happening to those minors in the custody of others.
“Under the Obama administration, there was no follow-up being done, no background checks, no home studies, no making sure that the person was going to care for them appropriately and was not going to be abusing them,” said Vaughan.
As a result, it was easy for the minors and their caretakers to fall off the map.
“They just don’t see any reason to check in with the government. They accomplished their goal of getting here and being able to live here. So they just ignore the call,” said Vaughan.
Vaughan says the government is still tasked with finding all of these people and assuring their well-being. She says the Trump approach is much more responsible.
“It’s only under the Trump administration, which actually increased the vetting and the home studies and the monitoring of these kids that advocacy groups have started to complain, which seems to me to be for political purposes. They weren’t complaining when the Obama administration was doing this in a much more irresponsible way. But they’re complaining now because they want to score political points,” said Vaughan.
In addition, Vaughan cautions Americans not to think of all minors as cuddly kindergartners. She says a disturbing percentage of them are teenagers or older (while claiming to be minors) in order to join gangs such as MS-13.
“[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] estimates that about 30 percent of the MS-13 gang members that they’ve arrested in the last year originally arrived here as minors in exactly this scenario,” said Vaughan.
She says gangs brought in a lot of people under the more lax rules.
“When we [had] such a lenient policy like this, of releasing minors to anybody who shows up to claim them, then bad actors are going to take advantage of it and they have done so. It’s caused a lot of problems in places like Long Island and the Washington, D.C, suburbs, and Texas, and other places where these gangs have suddenly become much more active and are causing a lot of problems,” said Vaughan.