We know the Trump administration has been unlawfully expelling unaccompanied minors, or children who come to the U.S. by themselves, under a Stephen Miller-led COVID-19 health order, including detaining some kids as young as 1 at hotels in Arizona and Texas until they can be quickly kicked out. But Lomi Kriel reports in The Texas Tribune and ProPublica that this criminal administration has been expelling these young asylum-seekers in far more terrifying secrecy—and outright cruelty—than previously known.
“Under this new policy, the administration is not deporting children—a proceeding based on years of established law that requires a formal hearing in immigration court,” she writes. “It is instead expelling them—without a judge’s ruling and after only a cursory government screening and no access to social workers or lawyers, sometimes not even their family, while in U.S. custody.” Because these kids aren’t even assigned identifying information after they’re taken into custody, advocates say they’re now “virtually impossible” to locate after being expelled.
“Between April and June, Customs and Border Protection officials encountered 3,379 unaccompanied minors at or between ports of entry,” Kriel reports. “Of those, just 162 were sent to federal shelters for immigrant children run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Health and Human Services agency tasked with their care. CBP would not say whether the remaining minors had been expelled or explain what had happened to them. The precise number of children who are detained or to what situations they are returned is difficult to ascertain.”
Advocates told Kriel that they liken this process to when U.S. officials failed to properly track families they were tearing apart under the inhumane “zero tolerance” policy back in 2018. “What’s different now is that children are not entering the U.S. system for migrant children at all,” the report said. Of these expelled kids, only a few dozen have since been located by advocacy groups. “’Nobody can find them,’ said Jennifer Podkul, vice president for policy at KIND, the advocacy group,” Kriel’s report said.
The administration was slapped with a lawsuit after an explosive Associated Press report last month revealed that a group of adults and children were being held by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contractor at a Hampton Inn & Suites location in McAllen, Texas. They in fact represented just a portion of the at least 240 kids who have been detained at hotels from April to June, Kriel’s report said.
But while the administration eventually backed down from deporting the group that was being held at the Hampton Inn & Suites location following a lawsuit, that decision pertained only to that specific group, meaning other children who are fleeing from violence and other dangers to the U.S. will continue to be inhumanely—and illegally—blocked at the border.
”This appalling violation of basic child welfare standards runs counter to values that we hold dear in this nation and is a shameful use of taxpayer dollars that could otherwise be invested in programs that protect children on the move who are in danger of trafficking and other threats posed by criminal entities,” advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense President Wendy Young said. “The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act established a comprehensive system to care for unaccompanied children that this practice flagrantly violates. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency charged with the care and custody of these children under this law, is at only 7 percent capacity.”
7% capacity, yet still being placed in hotels under the watch of wholly unqualified strangers. The AP’s report on the children detained at the hotels said that ICE wouldn’t comment on whether the staffers with contractor MVM Inc. are “licensed child care professionals or have received FBI background checks,” which would only require a simple “yes” if they were. “This is child abuse,” Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania rightly tweeted following the report.
A report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general last year found that it was unable to confirm the exact number of children and parents that have been separated under the family separation policy because officials failed to properly track families being ripped apart. In some cases, investigators said, officials became aware of a separation only because a different agency tasked with overseeing separated kids notified them about it. The administration already has this devastating crime against humanity on its hands; Miller’s policy is creating the next one.