Here's a story that will give pause to anyone whose heart isn't made of granite: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cannot account for nearly 1,500 unaccompanied migrant children who were placed in its care. The children, most of whom were fleeing violence in various Central American countries, arrived at the U.S. border without parents.*
From October to December 2017, HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors, and found 6,075 of the children were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported and 52 were living with someone else. The rest were missing, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS.
That means almost 20 percent of the kids in custody have vanished without a trace. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was responsible for this absolute incompetency coming to light, according to Time.
"These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked," said Portman, who chairs the subcommittee. "This is all about accountability."
Portman began investigating after a case in his home state of Ohio, where eight Guatemalan teens were placed with human traffickers and forced to work on egg farms under threats of death. Six people have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their participation in the trafficking scheme that began in 2013.
These kids went missing before Donald Trump became president, but his administration is ramping up efforts to stop illegal immigration. One of the main weapons they are using to discourage migrants is to separate kids from parents if they're caught at the border or inside the country. In a way, the U.S. government is using its own incompetence as a scare tactic: Come here, get caught, and neither you nor we will ever see your kids again.
Two weeks ago, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before a Senate committee:
"My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted," she said. "If you are parent, or you're a single person or if you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry we will refer you for prosecution. You have broken U.S. law."
Nielsen said the children are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services officials within two days.
We can expect the number of missing immigrant kids to grow as the border is hardened. But don't worry, Secretary Nielsen feels your pain:
"I couldn't agree with your concerns more.... We owe it to these children to protect them."
In many ways, immigration is the key issue to Donald Trump's rise to power. Within a few minutes of announcing his bid for the presidency, he laid into Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug mules, and disease-carriers. Just a few days ago, he repeated for the umpteenth time on Fox & Friends his patently false scare story about "someone who comes in is bad and has 24 family members yet not one of them do you want in this country."
In the view of Trump and other people against all forms of immigration—including leaders of the GOP who are pushing legislation that will cut legal immigration by as much as 50 percent—newcomers are simultaneously stealing our jobs and living fat off of taxpayer dollars. As bad, immigrants are destroying American culture by refusing to speak English, assimilate into our cultural traditions, and vote for the Republican Party that is dedicated to keeping them out of the country. To "make America great again," immigrants must go.
Yet even the most hardened anti-immigrationist must feel some sympathy for and empathy with those 1,475 literally and figuratively lost souls who have gone missing in the Land of Opportunity. For the wall-builders and the nativists: Is this really any way to make America great again? An immigration policy that lets more families enter and work legally, pay taxes, and stay together is a much better idea.
CORRECTION: The headline and first paragraph of this story originally stated that the children that HHS could not account for had been separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border by the government. That is mistaken. The children were unaccompanied minors from various Central American countries who reached the southern U.S. border between 2013 and 2016.
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