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More than 125,000 children traveling without parents have shown up along the U.S.-Mexico border to be taken into custody during the Biden administration, an astronomical figure far beyond precedent.
The child migrant crisis has dogged President Joe Biden throughout his tenure and dragged down his approval ratings. He has tried to overhaul border measures implemented by former President Donald Trump in an effort to more quickly process migrants and ensure that children are not held in inadequate facilities — even going so far as to fly them under the cover of night to states far from the border. Republicans charge that, in the process, he has created the aforementioned influx of unaccompanied children. The crisis is far from resolved.
From February through August, 112,433 unaccompanied children were found after crossing the southern border. The Department of Homeland Security has not released official numbers for child arrivals in September or in the first 15 days of October, but rough data from the Department of Health and Human Services reveals approximately 15,000 additional children were encountered by federal law enforcement in that period for a grand total of more than 125,000 children.
The 125,000 arrivals in less than nine months is higher than the 12-month record of 80,000 set in 2019.
Children smuggled to the United States come primarily from poor Central American countries south of Mexico but are now coming thousands of miles away from South American nations. For most, their families paid to move them across borders.
“They’re smuggled but not trafficked, necessarily,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington.
Since March, between 14,000 and 19,000 single children have come over the border each month — far above the 3,000 to 6,000 seen in an average month in the past decade. Until this year, the record for children encountered in a single month was 11,861, which was set during the humanitarian crisis in May 2019.
The surge of child migrants came after Biden walked back Trump-era immigration policies, with each change creating a ripple effect at the border.
Before Biden took office, child border crossings were relatively rare. The numbers of monthly arrivals dropped below 1,000 per month at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Border Patrol began immediately returning all adults and children to their home countries in an effort to avoid filling detention centers with people because the virus could easily spread in close quarters — a policy often referred to as Title 42 expulsions. The measure initially led to far fewer children making the journey to the U.S. because they would not be guaranteed release into the U.S.
In November 2020, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump administration could no longer immediately expel children. The Biden administration ordered that no child be returned to his or her home country. It also focused on more expeditiously releasing children to avoid detaining them for weeks on end.
As a result, the number of children coming over the southern border exploded as parents and smugglers recognized children would not be sent back home. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat, called on the administration to send back teenagers, but the Democratic administration has not budged.
Not all children who arrive at the border come the same way or for the same reason. Children who come to the border can be put in one of three categories, Brown said: They are sent by family members in their home country to go live with a relative in the U.S., they are sent for by family living in the U.S. who wish to bring the child from outside the U.S. to them, or they have independently chosen to migrate. Smugglers charge roughly $5,000 to $10,000 to smuggle one person, a fee that will often be worked off for months or years by the family if they do not have the money upfront.
When minors come across the border, they are taken by Border Patrol agents to regional stations for processing. The stations were built to hold them before they can be transferred to HHS.
HHS runs shelters where children are held until the government can find an adult to release the child to in the country.
The DHS and HHS declined to comment on the whereabouts of the 125,000 children who have shown up at the border since February. The government reportedly does not know how to contact 1-in-3 released children.
The Biden administration's focus on quickly releasing the children has made the U.S. government into the facilitator for human smuggling, said Andrew Arthur, a former federal immigration judge.
“The reason that the smugglers are sort of abandoning these children is because they know that [the Department of Homeland Security] is going to find [the parent],” said Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the conservative Center for Immigration Policy think tank in Washington. “We have helped them perfect their business model. If they simply drop them over the wall then they're not going to get arrested by DHS because they can just flee back to Mexico while DHS is too busy taking care of the kid."
Brown said families are desperate to escape a number of push factors, including poverty, unemployment, climate change, gangs and corruption, and inadequate medical care. It makes the trip to the U.S., an extremely dangerous one for a child in the hands of criminal organizations that facilitate the smuggling, worthwhile.
“The Biden administration has a lot of issues with its border policies,” said Brown. “It’s trying both to act like it's tough, and act like it’s humane all at the same time — mixed messages that don't work for anybody. It's trying deterrence while supposedly putting together some sort of better asylum policy on the U.S. side, which it hasn't done yet. So it's just adding to the already existing horrible backlogs that have been there since the Trump administration.”
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Original Author: Anna Giaritelli
Original Location: 125,000 children have shown up alone at border on Biden's watch