• The Dallas Morning News on how immigrant children are dealt with in the United States:
“Probably” isn’t a word you want to use when talking about whether children are safe. But that is precisely the word that comes to mind as we review the recent controversy that erupted over whether the federal government “lost” 1,475 migrant children who had been placed in the homes of caregivers.
Here’s what we know: In April testimony to Congress, a Health and Human Services official revealed that the government didn’t have a good handle on nearly 1,500 kids it had placed with caregivers. That testimony resurfaced over the weekend when immigration activists fanned the public debate with a series of tweets linking these children to the Trump administration policy to separate families who attempt to enter the country illegally.
The reality is that the kids in question here are not a product of the administration’s new policy. In fact, they are kids who are enmeshed in a federal system that has long had to deal with the children of immigrants.
But these kids are connected to this debate. If the current system doesn’t do a good job of keeping track of children, why would a new approach that separates children from their unauthorized-immigrant parents as a matter of policy adequately handle the children in its care?
Regardless of whether we like it, children are part of the immigration debate. Some arrive with their parents. Others arrive seeking asylum, some of whom are eligible for such status in our system.
For years, as unaccompanied minors arrived in the United States, border patrol or customs officials transferred them to the custody of HHS, which then placed them with a relative or sponsor.
HHS has made it a practice to make phone calls to check in on the minor’s placement. The agency says the bulk of the sponsors are parents or immediate family members or others whom the children had some previous relationship. But not all calls get returned, caregivers move and, in some cases, kids run away. The net result is that there are some children who came into HHS’ system for whom it cannot fully account now.
It is probable that most of these kids are in safe hands. But back in 2016, HHS was criticized for failing to protect unaccompanied minors from falling into the hands of human traffickers and other abusers. We understand that those reports prompted officials to conduct better background checks.
But we also understand something else: In an environment where immigrants are demonized, more people will live in the shadows of society where they can be exploited. We believe in the rule of law, so we prefer policies and rhetoric that encourages people to live in the open.
Only then can our legal system better protect society from all levels of abuse. And, yes, that includes ensuring there is no “probably” attached to talk about the safety of children who pass through the hands of HHS.