Monday, May 28, 2018

Important: Missing Children Announcement

William Blake, "The Little Boy Lost"

They aren't missing. That's the announcement. This is one of those awful things floating around the Internet spreading rage and distress in its wake that just isn't true. It is not the case that the government has lost 1,475 children.
The story is, rather, that on 26 April 2018 Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary of the HHS Administration for Children and Families (and you can see by the "acting" that it's another job Trump hasn't managed to fill, so this is a professional you can trust) was testifying to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, on Office of Refugee Responsibility care and placement of "unaccompanied alien children" (UAC), that is children who surrendered to immigration authorities at the border when they were unaccompanied by their parents or adult family members (so the government did not separate them from their families; these children, in contrast to the ones violently mistreated by the new Jeff Sessions policy, were already separated when they got here).

The ORR takes children referred to them by DHS, nearly all of them from from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and keeps them in shelters, which are probably not ideal, until they can place them in "foster care or whatever" as General Kelly said, but actually reunited with parents or close family members in 90% of cases. The average shelter stay is 50 or 60 days, while the office evaluates potential sponsors and their ability to provide for the child's physical and mental well-being, with interviews, background checks, and in some cases an on-site home study. In March 2016, this vetting was made stricter, requiring home studies for the sponsors of all children 12 and under, and recommending case managers to consider a home study in cases where it wasn't required.

Also in March 2016, the ORR instituted a program of safety and well-being calls to check up on children, 30 days after their release to the sponsor, in addition to expanding the 24/7 National Calling Center UAC kids can call in case of any kind of trouble. These were good ideas. It's the position of HHS that the ORR has no legal responsibility for the children once they've been released, but Wagner isn't satisfied with that, and is looking to change the regulation. In the meantime, as he was explaining to the subcommittee, they make these calls, and that's what the story of the missing kids is about:
From October to December 2017, ORR attempted to reach 7,635 UAC and their sponsors. Of this number, ORR reached and received agreement to participate in the safety and well-being call from approximately 86 percent of sponsors. From these calls, ORR learned that 6,075 UAC remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight UAC had run away, five had been removed from the United States, and 52 had relocated to live with a non-sponsor. ORR was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 UAC. Based on the calls, ORR referred 792 cases, which were in need of further assistance, to the National Call Center for additional information and services.
The 1,475 children were those whose sponsors wouldn't pick up the phone. They are not missing. They are mostly with their parents or close relatives; it is only the government that can't be 100% sure where they are.

Given that the current government loudly denounces these children as "illegals", "gang members", and "animals", I wouldn't say they are wrong to be shy, even though it's evidently not the ORR that's persecuting them.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't believe any horrible stories you hear from parents who have been cut off from their kids at a border crossing and may be unable to contact them even if they know where they are, like this reported in The New York Times:
Mirian has pinballed across Texas, held at various times in three other detention centers. She is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of many immigrant parents seeking to prohibit family separations at the border.
Her son’s name, along with Mirian’s surname, are being withheld for their safety. But in a declaration she filed in that case, she said she was never told why her son was being taken away from her. Since February, the only word she has received about him has come from a case manager at the facility in San Antonio where he is being held. Her son asked about her and “cried all the time” in the days after he arrived at the facility, the case worker said, adding that the boy had developed an ear infection and a cough.
“I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help,” Mirian said in her sworn statement. “I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”

But understand that these are not the same kids: they were accompanied when they got here, and victimized by the Trump-Sessions policy attempting to make their lives as bleak and frightening as possible, in the hopes that kids in Guatemala and Honduras will hear about it and decide it's better to stay in deep poverty and streets ruled by MS-13 members exported from southern California.

“It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent,” Kelly replied. He added that “the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
Putting a fine point on it: Kelly, himself the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, supports the blanket policy of separating children from their families because it’s a “tough deterrent” that is the “name of the game” in terms of limiting immigration. (Washington Post)
They too are being put in shelters, but the way they work is different from the ORR ones:
Children removed from their families are taken to shelters run by nongovernmental organizations. There, workers seek to identify a relative or guardian in the United States who can take over the child’s care. But if no such adult is available, the children can languish in custody indefinitely. Operators of these facilities say they are often unable to locate the parents of separated children because the children arrive without proper records.
Once a child has entered the shelter system, there is no firm process to determine whether they have been separated from someone who was legitimately their parent, or for reuniting parents and children who had been mistakenly separated, said a Border Patrol official, who was not authorized to discuss the agency’s policies publicly. (New York Times)
The purpose of the ORR program is to see that children are adequately cared for. The purpose of the new Sessions program is to make sure everybody knows Trump is worse than MS-13. So now you know, it's true.

Mother and seven-year-old daughter reunited in Chicago after four months' involuntary separation by immigration authorities, photo by Hope Hall/ACLU via New York Times. (Deleted a photo of a detention center that turned out to be from 2014.)

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