Bor­der chil­dren show up for court — this time for crimes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

As the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares for a new surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren this year, some of those from pre­vi­ous waves are turn­ing up on court dock­ets across the coun­try, charged with se­ri­ous crimes such as cap­i­tal mur­der and ag­gra­vated rape.

The cases are ex­pos­ing many of the holes in the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem and the way the U.S. has tried to grap­ple with chil­dren flee­ing eco­nomic trou­bles, do­mes­tic abuse or gang vi­o­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica — and some­times bring­ing those very trou­bles to the U.S. with them.

From the law, which re­quires most of the chil­dren to be turned over to so­cial work­ers, to im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties and the court sys­tem, which al­low most of them to ab­scond, never show­ing up to be de­ported, to the lack of a safety net to help the chil­dren once they’re free in the coun­try, the cases sug­gest a bro­ken process nearly from start to fin­ish, with some chil­dren get­ting lost in the sys­tem and oth­ers be­ing re­leased be­cause of over­crowd­ing, only to reap­pear when they’re called be­fore a judge to an­swer for a big­ger crime.

“The ea­ger­ness of the ad­min­is­tra­tion to open our bor­ders is not with­out con­se­quence,” said Rep. Dun­can Hunter, a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can who has tracked the is­sue. “Now we’re see­ing some of th­ese same mi­nors in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, and the crimes some are be­ing brought in for are very se­ri­ous, even heinous. The ad­min­is­tra­tion, with their ap­proach, wants to as­sume ev­ery­one that shows up on Amer­ica’s doorstep has good in­ten­tions, but that’s a danger­ous as­sump­tion, and we’re see­ing ev­i­dence of the fact.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­mits it was over­whelmed by last sum­mer’s surge, which of­fi­cials said caught them by sur­prise, with more than 60,000 so-called “un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors” — chil­dren trav­el­ing with­out a par­ent — stream­ing across the bor­der in fis­cal year 2014. The pace is pick­ing up once again head­ing into the warmer months of 2015, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est gov­ern­ment statis­tics, and though it’s down from 2014’s fre­netic rate, it’s still shap­ing up as the sec­ond-worst year on record.

Of­ten­times the chil­dren don’t even sneak into the coun­try but in­stead boldly seek out a Bor­der Pa­trol agent to turn them­selves in to, trust­ing that gen­er­ous laws, crowded courts and bu­reau­cratic con­fu­sion will give them a chance to dis­ap­pear into the shad­ows.

That was the sit­u­a­tion with Jonny Al­berto Enamorado-Vasquez, whose jour­ney from Hon­duras to a Hous­ton jail, where he awaits trial on cap­i­tal mur­der, is one of the more ex­treme cases.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, Mr. Enamorado fled Hon­duras on Sept. 22, 2012, hop­ing to connect with his fa­ther, who was sup­posed to be living in New Or­leans, pre­sum­ably with­out au­tho­riza­tion. He took buses across Gu­atemala and Mex­ico, end­ing up in Reynosa, a town di­rectly across the bor­der from McAllen, Texas, where he holed up at a safe house for a cou­ple of days be­fore jump­ing the bor­der on Oct. 7.

He was im­me­di­ately caught by agents do­ing line watch, who said they were un­able to track down his fa­ther. From that point on, Mr. Enamorado was in and out of au­thor­i­ties’ cus­tody, passed be­tween the Bor­der Pa­trol, detention of­fi­cers at Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and the so­cial work­ers at the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and even­tu­ally re­leased from detention in late Oc­to­ber be­cause of what the gov­ern­ment de­scribed as “lack of space.”

Lit­tle more than two years later he was back in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, with Hous­ton po­lice ac­cus­ing him of be­ing part of a Jan­uary homi­cide that saw three armed men burst into a smoke shop, find and con­front owner Michael Phelan, which sparked a gun­bat­tle that killed Phelan.

Mr. Enamorado ini­tially fought ex­tra­di­tion from Louisiana but caved and is now in Hous­ton. The lawyer listed as de­fend­ing him in his mur­der case didn’t re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

Part of the dif­fi­culty ap­pears to be Mr. Enamorado’s age. He ini­tially was booked as a 17-year-old and pro­cessed as a ju­ve­nile and placed in an HHS home for il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren. But it ap­pears au­thor­i­ties re­al­ized he was ac­tu­ally a year older, mak­ing him an adult and thus not el­i­gi­ble for the spe­cial treat­ment af­forded chil­dren.

HHS said it couldn’t com­ment on spe­cific cases un­der its purview, while Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, the agency that ap­pre­hended Mr. Enamorado, did not pro­vide an­swers to ques­tions sub­mit­ted for this story.

But Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies direc­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, said it’s not sur­pris­ing some of the chil­dren end up in trou­ble.

“Con­sid­er­ing the coun­tries they’re com­ing from and the preva­lence of gang ac­tiv­ity and re­cruit­ment of youth into gangs, and the fact that many of th­ese chil­dren have grown up with­out at least one of their par­ents in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, you can’t dis­count the threat they pose,” she said.

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