ICE of­fi­cial says en­force­ment tough af­ter catch-and-re­lease Bor­der chil­dren get placed with il­le­gals, crim­i­nals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The govern­ment says it is be­ing forced to turn over il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren to sponsors who are them­selves in the U.S. il­le­gally — and many of those adults al­ready have crim­i­nal records, leav­ing the chil­dren in pre­car­i­ous po­si­tions.

Matthew Al­bence, the chief of de­por­ta­tions at U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, told sen­a­tors dur­ing a hear­ing last week that nearly 80 per­cent of the chil­dren caught jump­ing the bor­der end up be­ing placed in house­holds with il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

He also said “a large chunk” of the adults are flagged for crim­i­nal en­tan­gle­ments.

Il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies nabbed at the bor­der, mean­while, are usu­ally re­leased to­gether as part of the court-im­posed catch-and-re­lease prac­tice. Nearly onethird of those par­ents quickly cut off the an­kle mon­i­tor­ing de­vice meant to make sure they show up for their de­por­ta­tion hear­ings.

That cre­ates an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion for ICE, which doesn’t have the man­power to de­vote to track­ing down those fam­i­lies, Mr. Al­bence said.

“I sim­ply do not have the re­sources to get peo­ple once they’re at large in the com­mu­ni­ties,” he told the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

He painted a bleak pic­ture of the en­force­ment op­tions open to the govern­ment as it tries to com­bat a new surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies and a con­tin­ued steady pace of ju­ve­niles trav­el­ing alone, who are known in Wash­ing­ton-speak as “un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren,” or UAC.

Democrats on the com­mit­tee said they don’t want to open the bor­ders to all com­ers but bris­tled at ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to hold fam­i­lies in de­ten­tion, call­ing that in­hu­mane.

They said there are other ways to make sure il­le­gal im­mi­grants show up for their court hear­ings and when it’s time to be de­ported. They sug­gested an­kle mon­i­tors and as­sign­ing so­cial work­ers and case work­ers for reg­u­lar check-ins.

“We are talk­ing about the in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion of chil­dren. That’s frankly not who we are as a coun­try, and it’s not what the United States should be­come,” said Sen. Mar­garet Wood Has­san, New Hamp­shire Demo­crat.

The govern­ment is grap­pling with two sep­a­rate prob­lems.

One in­volves un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, who be­gan to stream into the coun­try in large num­bers in 2012. The num­bers peaked in 2014 and have re­mained at el­e­vated lev­els in the years since. Un­der the law and court or­ders, those chil­dren are quickly pro­cessed and turned over to fed­eral so­cial work­ers, who try to find sponsors for them — usu­ally rel­a­tives such as aunts, un­cles or sib­lings al­ready in the U.S.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Al­bence’s num­bers, nearly 80 per­cent of those spon­sor house­holds com­prise il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

The other prob­lem in­volves par­ents who ar­rive with their chil­dren — la­beled “fam­ily units,” in govern­ment doc­u­ments — whose num­bers are sky­rock­et­ing as they learn how to take ad­van­tage of U.S. asy­lum laws. The govern­ment has set a record for fam­i­lies ap­pre­hended at the bor­der, with more days re­main­ing in the fis­cal year.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gled with both cat­e­gories, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has, too.

Mem­bers of Congress were par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about the un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, who in many cases were sent to live with sponsors dur­ing the Obama years with­out com­plete back­ground checks. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has im­proved those checks but says its hands are tied once the chil­dren are placed with sponsors.

Sen. Rob Port­man, an Ohio Re­pub­li­can who has tracked the is­sue for years, said when the govern­ment did fol­low-up calls with more than 11,000 chil­dren from April to June this year, they couldn’t de­ter­mine with cer­tainty the where­abouts of 13 per­cent of the un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren. Twen­ty­five were known to have run away in the first month af­ter they were re­leased to sponsors.

Both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions have said the govern­ment’s le­gal role is se­verely con­strained once they send the chil­dren to sponsors.

Be­cause most of the fam­i­lies who take in un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren have le­gal sta­tus prob­lems them­selves, they of­ten are not forth­com­ing about deal­ing with the govern­ment’s fol­low-up ef­forts.

Mr. Port­man and sev­eral col­leagues an­nounced a bill Tues­day giv­ing the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment author­ity over the chil­dren even af­ter their re­lease, up un­til their de­por­ta­tion case is con­cluded. Sponsors who fail to make sure un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren show up for their cases will lose cus­tody and the chil­dren will be taken back into the care of the health depart­ment, ac­cord­ing to the leg­is­la­tion.

Sen. James Lank­ford, Ok­la­homa Re­pub­li­can, sug­gested that the govern­ment con­sider re­turn­ing to a pol­icy it had decades ago of releasing un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren only to peo­ple who are in the coun­try legally.

“We tend to ‘lose chil­dren’ when they go and are placed in the home of some­one who al­ready is not legally present, who has been liv­ing un­der the radar for years, and we are sur­prised when they both dis­ap­pear. This should not sur­prise us,” he said.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, some par­ents have sent their chil­dren to the U.S. know­ing they would be abused by sponsors. A man pleaded guilty in fed­eral court in Ohio on Mon­day to his role in ar­rang­ing un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren to be brought to the U.S. from Gu­atemala, get­ting the govern­ment to turn the chil­dren over to sponsors, then send­ing them out to do forced la­bor on farms.

Chil­dren as young as 14 were forced into 12-hour work­days de-beaking chick­ens and clean­ing coops. Their pay­checks were with­held to com­pel them to work.

As tricky as the un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren sit­u­a­tion is, deal­ing with the fam­ily units may be even tougher.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempted to stem the flow of fam­i­lies this year with a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy, which called for jail­ing par­ents. Since fed­eral jails don’t ac­com­mo­date fam­i­lies, the chil­dren were sep­a­rated and put into the pool of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren, farmed out to sponsors or housed in dorms.

Af­ter a se­vere back­lash from Democrats, Repub­li­cans, re­li­gious lead­ers, im­mi­grant rights groups and health pro­fes­sion­als, the ad­min­is­tra­tion can­celed the zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy.

In­stead, it said, it would try to hold the fam­i­lies to­gether in de­ten­tion un­til their cases are com­pleted. Home­land Se­cu­rity and HHS re­leased pro­posed reg­u­la­tions sev­eral weeks ago to carry out that plan.

But Democrats and im­mi­grant rights groups ob­jected, say­ing fam­i­lies must be re­leased.

They called for al­ter­na­tives such as mon­i­tor­ing de­vices or a pilot project known as the Fam­ily Case Man­age­ment Pro­gram. They pointed to re­search sug­gest­ing the pro­gram had a 99 per­cent suc­cess rate in get­ting il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies to show up for court cases.

“We don’t have to sep­a­rate their fam­i­lies and we don’t have to, for the first time in our coun­try’s his­tory, go on a build­ing pro­gram of fam­ily pris­ons,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mis­souri Demo­crat. “That is not the right an­swer.”

Mr. Al­bence coun­tered that bracelets and case man­age­ment haven’t worked in get­ting peo­ple to show up for de­por­ta­tions.

“We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sig­nif­i­cant rate of ab­scon­ders among the fam­ily units — 3 in 10 fam­ily units are cut­ting off the an­kle bracelets at the be­gin­ning of the process when re­leased from our cus­tody, within days or weeks,” he said.

He also re­jected the case man­age­ment pro­gram as a model, say­ing that while the fam­i­lies showed up for some hear­ings, they still ab­sconded when it came time to de­port them.

He said there are more than 700,000 peo­ple on ICE’s docket, and fit­ting all of them with bracelets for the years it can take to com­plete their cases would be ex­pen­sive — even if they could keep peo­ple from cut­ting the bracelets.

Of nearly 95,000 Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­ily mem­bers nabbed by Bor­der Pa­trol agents or U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers in 2017, 98.6 per­cent are still in the U.S., the govern­ment says.

Of more than 30,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren nabbed, 98.2 per­cent were still in the U.S. as of June.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Matthew Al­bence, the chief of de­por­ta­tions at U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, said that nearly 80 per­cent of the chil­dren caught jump­ing the bor­der end up be­ing placed in house­holds with il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

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