UAM Placements Approach 2014 Crisis Levels
According to recently released Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data, the Obama administration placed 4,097 unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) with adult sponsors in the United States during the month of May, having already eclipsed the total for the entire previous fiscal year. (See HHS Unaccompanied Children Statistics; MRC TV, May 31, 2016) The 33,347 UAMs released into the country since the current fiscal year began is also on track to top FY 2014 record levels, which saw an unprecedented 53,515 UAMs placed with sponsors. (Id.)
Once UAMs are apprehended at the border, they are screened, processed, and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (See FAIR UAC Fact Sheet)
Within 72 hours, they must be turned over to HHS and placed into a temporary immigration shelter. From there, HHS attempts to place the UAM with an adult sponsor — who is likely in the country unlawfully — to care for them temporarily, pending the resolution of their case in immigration court. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 26, 2016)
Federal law requires HHS to ensure that UAMs are protected from trafficking and other forms of abuse. However, a Senate investigation revealed that HHS's policies and procedures are inadequate to protect the UAMs that are in the agency's care, as a number of UAMs were placed in the hands of human traffickers who forced them into slave labor conditions. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 2, 2016; Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Staff Report, Jan. 28, 2016)
Additionally, the investigation found that many UAMs fail to appear in immigration court and effectively disappear into the country, as HHS cedes all power and responsibility over the UAM once they are transferred to the care of a sponsor.
Fortunately, true immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) have introduced legislation to address the placement of UAMs with adult sponsors. S. 2561, the Protection of Children Act of 2016, requires HHS to collect background information to prevent the release of UAMs to illegal aliens already in the country. (See FAIR Summary of S. 2561)
The bill also closes a loophole in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 that prevents Central American UAMs from being promptly returned to their home countries. This loophole, combined with President Obama's refusal to enforce our immigration laws, continues to exacerbate the UAM surge that began in 2014. The Sessions-Johnson bill is the companion to the House version, H.R. 1149, which was authored by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last year. (See FAIR Summary of H.R. 1149; House Judiciary Markup of H.R. 1149)
FAIR supports H.R. 1149 and S. 2561.