The US’s Department of Homeland Security has given several reasons for its new policy of taking more immigrant children who cross the country’s southern border away from their parents, even those seeking asylum.
One recurring explanation is that people are smuggling in kids who aren’t theirs, to either traffic them, or to get into the US under false pretenses. The Trump administration just wants to protect the children, officials have said.
“When we separate, we separate because the law tells us to, and that is in the interest of the child…Unfortunately, we have seen instances where traffickers have used children to cross the border and gain access illegally,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in April.
It is unclear what “law” Nielsen is talking about here, exactly.
There is a law that prevents the US government from putting families seeking asylum into detention indefinitely, as Quartz has explained, and the Trump administration appears to be taking children away so that it can lock up their parents. US authorities have long-viewed detaining immigrants as a way to send them a message not to come, but the new policy is a “a cruel and inhumane practice,” immigration experts say, and one that could permanently damage the children.
Asked about the logic behind the policy this week, a DHS official also emphasized the “welfare of the children” to Quartz:
When dealing with families that cross the border, our primary responsibility is to ensure the welfare of the children. Unfortunately, we continue to see too many cases of children being used by smugglers, traffickers, and TCOs [transnational criminal organizations] in an attempt to circumvent our laws and gain entry.
Yet statistics from the department itself show how incredibly rare that situation is. In fiscal year 2017, there were just 46 cases of an immigrant coming across the US’s southern border who fraudulently claimed a child was theirs, DHS told Quartz, out of a total of 303,916 apprehensions. That means the situation happens in 0.015% of all cases.
In the first six months of fiscal 2018, there have been 191 cases of an immigrant fraudulently claiming a child was theirs, DHS says, out of 211,821 apprehensions. That’s 0.09% of all cases.
On the other hand, out of the more than 7,635 “unaccompanied alien children” that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in recent years, the government doesn’t know where 1,475 of them are, an ORR official said in April. That means the US has lost 19.3% of all immigrant kids it is in charge of.
DHS didn’t answer questions about why the policy made sense, given how rare it was for kids to be fraudulently used.