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Babies on Our Borders

WEB Children Immigration 001

AP Photo/Andrew Wong

Susan E. Wills - published on 06/16/14

New immigration policies are putting childrens' lives at risk.
The humanitarian crisis on the southern U.S. border worsens by the day. Photos of kids crammed into the Border Patrol’s chain-link-fenced holding pens would elicit compassion from the hardest heart. 

But compassion gives way to outrage when one learns of the dangers and risks these kids have been subjected to in getting to the U.S. border—of a 
2-year-old left at the border by a smuggler fleeing border patrol agents, of a 
3-year-old El Salvadorean toddler abandoned in a laundromat, of the children “who’ve been 
robbed, beaten, raped … some killed,” and 
others drowned or missing.

While the influx of children and “family units”—pregnant women and mothers with small children—has been compared to the post-Katrina exodus from New Orleans, this is no natural disaster. Someone or something is responsible for this. We need to investigate who and why and how to stop it.

Many Americans want to see immigration reform that will both (1) secure our borders against the threats posed by terrorists and transnational criminal cartels involved in the trafficking of drugs, weapons and human beings, and also (2) show compassion and generosity, which have always been a hallmark of Americans, by (a) permitting foreign national children to be reunited with their parents who reside illegally in the U.S. and by (b) creating a path to citizenship for those who, while not legal residents, have positively contributed to American society. 

Many Americans knowledgeable about the current situation along our southern border believe that this tragedy is the result of policies directed toward the “compassionate” goals to the exclusion of national security goals. And, focusing only on reunification and the merciful treatment of hardworking immigrants here illegally, immigration policies seem to have produced dire, though unintended, consequences.   

Among those who believe that the plight of unaccompanied children and mother-baby family units is due to misguided policies are current and 
former Border Patrol leaders and the 7,000 agents and officers of the National ICE Council, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  
union (and 
here). Its members  cast a  unanimous vote of “No Confidence” in ICE Director, John Morton, due to his implementation of policies that agents considered ill-advised and, possibly, unlawful.

A federal district court judge, 
the Honorable Andrew S. Hanen went so far as to accuse the Administration of being co-conspirators in the smuggling of children.

Lastly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) put together a “
Timeline: How The Obama Administration Bypassed Congress To Dismantle Immigration Enforcement.”

What these sources show is a coordinated 5 ½ year-long effort by the White House and Cabinet departments (notably Homeland Security and Justice) to administratively amend U.S. immigration and border security policies, resulting in greatly increased number of immigrants residing illegally in the U.S.  No doubt, the motivation was humanitarian–to allow families to escape the poverty endemic in Central America and to reunite families, but motivations are beside the point. 

The point is this: lax border security and current nonenforcement 
“inspired” parents residing illegally in the U.S. to pay $6,000-8,000 (or more) to human smugglers (“coyotes”) to deliver their minor children across the U.S. southern border. As Judge Hanen 
noted, coyotes are not “bonded childcare providers.” They are part of a vast criminal enterprise under the control of Mexican drug cartels. And after the more fortunate children are apprehended by Border Patrol, processed and handed over by ICE to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DHS personnel in essence “will 
finish the job of the human traffickers.” DHS completes the smugglers’ jobs by delivering these children to a “relative” or to a parent in the U.S.—a parent, in the judge’s opinion, who had seen fit to abandon them in Central America and subsequently was willing to put their lives in jeopardy by paying criminals to get them over the border.

Is poverty in one’s homeland a valid excuse for violating the law? Many believe it is. But what legitimate grounds exist for entrusting one’s child to ruthless criminals? That’s what these parents have done. 

Describing these risks, Judge Hanen quotes at length from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2013 report “Texas Public Safety Threat Overview”:

Mexican cartels, transnational gangs, human trafficking groups, and other criminal organizations engage in a wide range of criminal activity in Texas, including murder, kidnapping, assault, drug trafficking, weapon smuggling, and money laundering. However, by far the most vile crime in which these organizations and other criminals are engaged is the exploitation and trafficking of children. These crimes are also carried out and enabled by prostitution rings, manufacturers and viewers of child pornography, sexual predators, and other criminals.  …

The methods and means used by smugglers to transport and hold aliens subject them to high degrees of risk. Unsafe vehicles and drivers, squalid conditions in stash houses, rugged terrain, and harsh elements create dangerous circumstances. Hundreds of illegal aliens have died in Texas and elsewhere along the border, including 839 in Texas sectors. These include deaths due to environmental exposure (heat and cold), terrain and motor-vehicle related deaths, drownings, other causes, and cases in which skeletal remains were recovered or a cause could not be determined. FY2012 was a record year for such deaths in Texas sectors, increasing 198 percent from 91 in 2010 to 271 in FY2012. …

In addition to these dangerous methods and means, smugglers also regularly use violence, extortion, and unlawful restraint against illegal aliens. In some cases, they are forced to perform labor, and females—including minors—may be sexually assaulted. Some are subjected to physical assaults if payments are not received, and several have died while being held in stash houses in Texas. And just as drug traffickers may attempt to steal drug loads from rival traffickers, criminals sometimes attempt to steal or hijack groups of aliens from smugglers.

How much money are the cartels and coyotes making these days from their human smuggling activities? Multiply the average coyote’s rate ($7,000) times figures for the Rio Grande Valley sector alone, provided by a Texas Democrat Congressman. According to Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), every day approximately 
twelve hundred people, including 300 to 
four hundred unaccompanied children (an estimated 
90,000 children this year) mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, are crossing the river in this sector of southeast Texas (comprising about 110 miles to the southeast of Rio Grande City).

They did not walk 1,200-1,500 miles on their own—crossing national borders and through cartel territories and drug wars—without someone who knows the route and knows whom to bribe to get through.

When they arrive, because these numbers are overwhelming the local Border Patrol facilities, unaccompanied children and “family units”—usually consisting of mothers and babies or pregnant women—are now being transported by bus and chartered planes to a warehouse detention center in Nogales, Arizona where they are processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Once processed, family units have been 
dropped at bus stations, without any food, water or basic necessities, 
possibly in violation of state child abuse laws, to find their way to relatives already in the U.S. They are told to report to a local Immigration and Naturalization office within 15 days, but few do and follow-up is nonexistent for these “low priority” cases.

Unaccompanied children are turned over to DHS/HHS for shelter and eventual foster care or reunion with parents or other relatives living in the United States. 

A Senate committee has just 
added a second billion dollars to an appropriations bill to care for the children and facilitate their reunion with family members illegally residing in the U.S.

It must be pointed out, as Congressman 
Henry Cuellar (D-TX) has noted, that “almost 40 percent of the Border Patrol Agents are not at the border; they are actually filling out paperwork, transporting, feeding, moving these folks around.” This allows terrorists and cartel members (in their capacities as human traffickers, drug and weapons smugglers, for example) pretty much free rein to come and go at will.

Why is the influx of Other-than-Mexican family units and unaccompanied minors happening?

The Administration attributes the new and growing the flood of immigrants to increased gang violence in their home countries. But others, including Guatemalan Ambassador 
Julio Ligorria and 
border patrol agents have refuted that claim. Although violent gangs may are prevalent in El Salvador, that’s not that case in areas of Honduras and Guatemala from which the teens and family units have been coming.

According to the 
Washington Times, “agents interviewed more than 200 non-Mexican immigrants on May 28 [2014], and 95 percent of them said they came because they’d heard they could get a ‘permiso,’ or ‘free pass.” The 
Washington Times article goes on to say:

This information is apparently common knowledge in Central America and is spread by word of mouth and international and local media,” the memo reads. “A high percentage of the subjects interviewed stated their family members in the U.S. urged them to travel immediately, because the United States government was only issuing immigration ‘permisos’ until the end of June 2014.

A simple misunderstanding? No, they understand the Administration’s border security and immigration policy far better than Americans do. 

Under the Administration’s policy—“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”—promulgated to accomplish the same goals as the Dream Act, which failed to pass Congress, children who were brought illegally to the United States by their parents are given temporary legal status to remain, ending any threat of deportation for at least two years. Children up to age 30 can apply, but in theory they must have been under 16 when brought here. In practice, who’s counting? Over 500,000 requests for this de facto amnesty were approved as of November 30, 2013 and only 14,614 rejected. Applications will be accepted for another two years under a recent policy renewal.

A March 2, 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director, John Morton, lays the groundwork for what many people refer to as “ de facto amnesty.” Sen. Sessions’ nonenforcement “
Timeline” summarizes the memo:

ICE Director Morton outlines new enforcement “priorities”—convicted criminals, terrorists, gang members, recent illegal entrants, and fugitives. The memo encourages ICE employees to exercise prosecutorial discretion for illegal immigrants who do not meet these priorities and directs ICE field office directors to not “expend detention resources” on certain illegal immigrants. 

Further, ICE issued a new 
policy in August 2013, “prohibiting its agents from detaining and/or deporting illegal immigrant parents, legal guardians, and ‘primary caretakers’ of minor children.” This completes the de facto amnesty loop. Parents or other relatives illegally present in the U.S. can hire the cartels’ human smugglers to bring a child to the U.S. and through that child’s quasi-legal presence in the U.S., the parent or relative also become immune from detention and deportation.

Reassuring statements by Administration officials that “the border is secure” and “deportations are higher than ever,” have lulled Americans into thinking that we’re being protected from the terrorists and criminals trying to gain access to fortress America. After all, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates that the Department of Homeland Security maintain operational control of the border and prevent unlawful entry into the U.S. 

As to border security: In 2011, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
, reported that “only 6.5 percent of the Southwest border is under full control.”

Other entries in Sen. Sessions’ “Timetable” reveal that – 

In March 2010, Secretary Napolitano announced that funding for the “Virtual Fence” along the Southwest border would be redeployed and work on the fence halted. 

In a May 2011 speech in El Paso, President Obama  stated that his administration has “strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible” and that the border fence “is now basically complete.” I guess you could call it “complete” as no further work was to be done on it, but in fact,  “only 33.7 miles of the 700 miles of fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 had been completed.” 

In July 2012, the Administration closed nine border patrol stations, including six in Texas. 

Agents complain that their workforce has been slashed and hours cut, ostensibly due to the sequester.

The New York Times reported in March 2013, that administration officials “admitted that ‘they had resisted producing a single measure to assess the border because the president did not want any hurdles placed on the pathway to eventual citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.”

As to deportations: In December 2010, the Washington Post 
reported that an announcement by Secretary Napolitano and ICE Director Morton in October, to the effect that “ICE had removed more illegal aliens than in any other period in the history of our nation” was false.  Internal ICE memos in fact showed that ICE deportation statistics had been padded “by including 19,422 removals” from the previous fiscal year and adding 6,500 more Mexican removals under an extended deadline.

The “Timetable” also reports that in a “roundtable” meeting with immigration advocates in September 2011, the President conceded that deportation statistics had been misleading: “The statistics are actually a little bit deceptive because what we’ve been doing is … apprehending folks [i.e., Mexicans] at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours.”

Let the children come to be reunited with their parents, if that is what Americans favor. But, for heaven’s sake, entrust them to regularly scheduled airline flights so they’re lives aren’t put in jeopardy and so we’re not furthering the cartel’s criminal activities. Then let’s shut down the border so we’re not letting terrorists and cartel thugs in as the price of little children getting to their moms and dads.  

​Susan E. Wills,JD, LLM left the practice of law to join the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, where she served for 20 years as Asst. Director for Education and Outreach until her retirement in 2013. She now serves as Aleteia’s English edition Spirituality Editor. 

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