After delaying a report on the number of illegal border crossings until after the election, the Obama administration has finally disclosed exactly how many unaccompanied alien children and families with children surged across the border over the past year.
Fiscal year 2014 ended on Sept. 30, and by Oct. 10 the numbers were posted on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. But they were taken down five hours later, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The figures reappeared a few days after last week’s election, showing the number of unaccompanied alien children, or UAC, apprehended at the Southern border climbed by 77 percent over the previous year. Anyone 17 or under is classified as a child.
Families with children, which most often includes a single mother with one or more kids, climbed by 361 percent over the prior year.
Now that all these children are here – nearly 70,000 of them by themselves and thousands more with a parent – they must be housed, fed, provided health care, public education, transportation and special help with language and cultural barriers, all at taxpayer expense.
Lawyers for free?
But there is one other critical service they’re not entitled to under U.S. law as asylum seekers: a court-appointed lawyer to argue their case before an immigration judge who will decide if they get to stay in the country.
Not to worry. Lobbyists for various government contractors are already pressuring Congress to approve funds for free immigration lawyers for the children.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is just one such contractor, which gets paid by the federal government to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It sent out an action alert to its supporters last week asking them to call or write Congress and put in a word for court-appointed lawyers for the UACs.
Central American children “must be allowed to seek asylum in the United States,” the HIAS website states.
“Under U.S. law, these children are not eligible for court-appointed lawyers. Many children must navigate the complex immigration system alone and must represent themselves in court, and many are jailed while doing so,” according to HIAS. “This is unacceptable and un-American.”
When Congress returns to Washington on Thursday, it must vote to fund the government for the current fiscal year.
“Decisions will be made about funding immigration judges and lawyers, detention facilities, and whether or not to keep important protections in place for children seeking asylum,” according to the HIAS action alert. “Join us in urging Congress to ensure that children and others who are running for their lives are given a fair chance to seek asylum in the United States.”
HIAS also provides a form letter on its website for supporters to send to members of Congress. It reads in part:
Most of the unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. have fled violence, sexual abuse, forced gang recruitment, and other forms of exploitation and should be eligible for asylum or other relief in the U.S.
As a global humanitarian leader, the United States must respect the rights of those who seek asylum. However, under U.S. law, asylum seekers – including children – are not eligible for court appointed lawyers. This means that many children must navigate the complex immigration system alone and must represent themselves in court, and many are jailed while doing so.
As you consider the bill to fund the government for the current fiscal year, I urge you to ensure that there is sufficient funding for immigration courts to process cases efficiently and for lawyers to represent all children seeking asylum. I urge you to fund alternatives to detention rather than facilities that will jail those who seek safety in the United States. Finally, I urge you to keep in place important existing legal protections for children seeking asylum.
Throughout our history, America has been defined by our generosity toward those who seek a safe haven from violence, oppression, and persecution. I urge you to show leadership in ensuring that children and others who are running for their lives are given a fair chance to seek safe haven in the United States.
Melanie Nezer, vice president for policy and advocacy at Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Eight other government contractors, which like HIAS receive federal grants to carry out their work with refugees and asylum seekers, lobby Congress in similar fashion, continuously pushing for more money to pay for higher levels of resettlement work. They also lobby the State Department each year to increase the numbers of refugees being brought into the U.S. legally from various war-torn countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The Obama administration decided for fiscal 2015 it would allow 70,000 refugees in through legal channels, but this does not include those from Central America who enter illegally through the Southern border.
How the system works
Once unaccompanied alien children cross into the U.S., they can petition the courts for a protected legal status that allows them to stay. State juvenile courts can also be petitioned by sponsors and shelters under federal contract to make legal findings that the unaccompanied minor has been abandoned, neglected or abused by his parents and that reunification with the parents and return to their or their parent’s country of origin is not in his best interest.
The findings, essential for obtaining permanent residency, are called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS, findings.
The largest federal grants for housing UACs this year went to Baptist Child & Family Services, which received $280.2 million; Southwest Key Programs Inc., at $122.3 million; and International Educational Services Inc., at $55 million. Translation services and charter airlines also are making millions of dollars from contracts to transport the children around the country, and to help overcome language barriers, the Washington Times reported.
The Department of Health and Human Services makes clear that the minors are considered to be in the legal custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, even though they are in the physical custody of the private contractors.
“The majority of UAC are expected to stay in ORR custody between 30-35 days, but a UAC’s length of stay with a residential care provider can vary,” HHS said in its work statement soliciting applications.
The Obama administration has said the surge is subsiding, but HHS warned shelter providers that the numbers could continue to grow: “The size of the entire UAC population in ORR custody will fluctuate depending on the number of UAC the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apprehends.”
All sheltering facilities must send the illegal-alien children to school. Facebook and other social media have been rife with complaints from American parents that their children are required to provide multiple pieces of identification while the Central American children are treated with a different set of rules. They have also been flown on major U.S. airlines without providing any identification.
The children are guaranteed the right to wear their own clothes, to have a private place to store belongings, to have guests, to send and receive uncensored mail and to have phone privileges.
“UAC have the right to make phone calls to family members regardless of the family’s immigration status and includes family members located in the UAC’s country of origin,” HHS said in its work statement.
No one representing the taxpayer
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, said the system is rigged in favor of the illegal immigrants and the network of service providers who make money by caring for them. The American taxpayers have no one standing up for their interests in Washington.
“We’re talking about tens of thousands of illegals. It shows how the lobbyists in D.C. and our own government in D.C. are facilitating this invasion,” Gheen said. “Obama and the GOP leadership are both attempting to do the same thing here. GOP leaders are trying to do the same thing Obama wants to do by decree. That sets a monumental task for us as Americans to stop them.”
Gheen said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, promised voters that Republicans would stop Obama if given the Senate in last Tuesday’s elections.
“That does not mean stopping Obama by passing legislation doing the same thing,” Gheen said. “It did not mean having Republicans like (House Speaker) John Boehner and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell pass legislation that Obama wants.”
If that happens and Republicans do go along with passing an amnesty bill through Congress, Gheen believes conservatives need to look hard at forming a third party that will represent their values.
“We really have to look at creating a third party, because in the American heartland we have two parties, but in Washington we really only have one,” he said.