by Don Barnett
According to U.S. government data, 717 “unaccompanied children” had been resettled in 2021 in Tennessee by the end of March. At the rate they are arriving, that number today is well over 1,000. Among states, Tennessee is the 8th most popular destination for placement of the minors.
Ask anyone what they hated most about Trump’s 4 years and it will most likely be something about “children in cages” or Trump’s “family separation policy.” Never mind that those families were offered the chance to return home and instead voluntarily accepted separation from their children who then – for those who claim to be under 18 – would fall into the official category of “unaccompanied children” (UC’s) and get the chance to stay. Never mind that many of the photos of “children in cages” were taken during the Obama administration or that Congress waited for 7 weeks to consider a request from the Trump White House to fund expanded space for the expanding waves of families and teen-aged border crossers caused by congressional policies. Yep, those pictures of children behind chain linked fences really did the trick. “Propaganda is disguised as news” as Stalin’s PR flack Willi Munzenberg liked to say.
The highest single year of UC entrants was during the Trump administration – 69,550 in 2019. Only the Covid border shutdown in 2020 prevented Trump from being the all-time most generous president when it comes to admitting unaccompanied children. That distinction will most likely go to the Biden administration. In March alone 18,890 UC’s crossed the border, the largest monthly number in history.
In post-911 legislation aimed at tightening security for Americans Congress liberalized many aspects of immigration policy. Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress transferred the care and custody of UC’s to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within DHHS from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in order to move away from the adult detention model. In other words, when it comes to certain illegal border crossers under the age of 18, the Department of Homeland Security is no longer responsible for enforcing immigration law. Instead, these minors are to “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
When UC’s were treated like illegal border crossers, about 5,000 were apprehended annually. Predictably, under the post-911 model, the number for this advantaged category has rocketed skyward and annual admissions in the future will easily top 100,000 unless the Biden administration stops ignoring the problem.
In 2020 the children spent an average of 102 days in ORR care where they get “Routine medical and dental care, family planning services, including pregnancy tests and comprehensive information about and access to medical reproductive health services and emergency contraception, immunizations.” ORR oversees the “Administration of prescribed medications and special diets and appropriate mental health interventions.”
ORR requires that its contractors “maintain a written plan and periodic schedule for exposure to and participation in appropriate cultural events” calculated to ensure the “preservation of ethnic and religious heritage” of the UC’s. And you thought they were trying to leave their country of origin.
Though the UC’s do not have a permanent immigration status and “must eventually appear in immigration court – often 2 years down the road, most are here permanently one way or the other,” according to retired immigration judge Andrew Arthur.
ORR is responsible for finding permanent homes for the children and in recent years about half of the children have been placed with a presumed parent. According to a senior Border Patrol official, DNA testing is very rarely done to verify relationship. No forensic medical testing is done to verify age and border agents report many cases of older individuals getting in by claiming to be minors. Known gang tattoos are not a bar to entry.
Historically, about 15% go into the U.S. foster care system and the rest are placed with a presumed relative (again, as a rule, no DNA testing to confirm relationship).
This is quickly becoming a burden for states and, quite frankly, all of society.
Governor Lee signed on to a May 11 letter to the President with 19 other governors about the crisis at the border, referring specifically to UC’s and stating that the federal government has “circumvented our states altogether by asking private organizations and nonprofits to house unaccompanied migrant children…. Allowing the federal government to place a potentially unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our states’ facilities for an unspecified length of time with almost zero transparency is unacceptable and unsustainable. We have neither the resources nor the obligation to solve the federal government’s problem and foot the bill for the consequences of this Administration’s misguided actions.”
If it continues, the influx will be two to three times greater than the average annual intake of refugees in Tennessee. The refugee program is another humanitarian federal immigration program which has “circumvented our states altogether” and which is run by profit making private organizations and nonprofits. Governor Lee did not support a lawsuit to recover the state costs to “foot the bill” of the federal refugee program. As part of his advocacy for immigration reform he may wish to consider a lawsuit to recover costs in the case of the UC’s.
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Don Barnett is a retired IT professional and freelance writer living in Williamson County.
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