Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Mexican minors coming across the border illegally are interviewed by an immigration official and, unless they can persuade him/her of a credible fear of persecution or of being trafficked if sent back, are expeditiously turned over to Mexican authorities as appropriate.
But those minors coming from Central America are immediately placed in a legal removal process, with access to counsel, and within 72 hours are transferred from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Health and Human Services for comprehensive care until they are taken in by parents or other sponsors.
Once placed in this dense legal thicket, together with hundreds of thousands of others currently awaiting their date in court, only a small percentage leave the United States. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysis of HHS and Justice Department data, only 1,600 juveniles going through this system were physically removed from the United States in 2013, while 47,000 were apprehended.
What can be done to keep the minors out of the hands of the smugglers and save some of the billions of dollars to be spent on them this year and in future years, money needed for our own children and for our veterans?
Sen. Diane Feinstein, who was a key proponent of the bill, suggested July 10 at the Appropriations Committee hearing that the “exceptional circumstances” clause in the act might give HHS more discretion in sending home certain of the Central American minors. This could be a deterrent to others considering the trip. Purely as an interim measure, perhaps President Barack Obama could support such a process while debate in Congress continues on a substantial modification of the act.
Less than 5,000 Central American minors were apprehended in 2008; when Congress generously passed the act that year, no one foresaw the expansion to 70,000 in 2014, and a projected number of over 100,000 in 2015.