The Left’s Immigration Policies Are Endangering Children

COMMENTARY Immigration

The Left’s Immigration Policies Are Endangering Children

Mar 22nd, 2021 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Lora Ries

Director, Center for Technology Policy

Lora is Director of the Center for Technology Policy and Senior Research Fellow for Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation.
A girl from Honduras holds a sign asking President Biden to let her in during a migrant demonstration at San Ysidro crossing port in Tijuana on March 2, 2021. GUILLERMO ARIAS / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Candidate Joe Biden promised amnesty to illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as minors, including teenagers.

His administration has opened the border and is being overwhelmed by unaccompanied alien children.

Giving benefits and promising green cards endangers minors. The TVPRA has been a visible and consistent failure. It must be repealed.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the irresponsible “American Dream and Promise Act” to provide amnesty to an unknown number of illegal aliens who entered the country before they were 19 years old. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is opening “reception centers” and the Dallas Convention Center to process a record number of illegal aliens, particularly unaccompanied children flowing to our southern border, and release them into communities.

These two events are bookends that demonstrate the Left has designed and planned a careless system of illegal immigration on the backs of children that ignores federal immigration law. And the current administration is energetically working to put that system into effect.

First, a brief history. In 2000, California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act, which was sold as a bill to protect minors. It provided unaccompanied alien children with easier and expanded benefits, such as “prompt parole” into the United States, taxpayer-funded guardians and attorneys, and the rarely used Special Immigrant Juvenile visa, and it eased the green card process.

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Anyone who read the bill could predict the results: More parents would hand their children over to dangerous smugglers to enter the U.S. without them, be released, and gain a family foothold from the bill’s easy benefits. The bill would endanger children, not protect them.

The UACPA repeatedly failed to pass Congress, but Feinstein and Lofgren introduced the bill five Congresses in a row until Rep. Howard Berman, another California Democrat, folded the benefits of the UACPA into a bill that would be easier to pass: the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

Under a new title of “Enhancing Efforts to Combat the Trafficking of Children,” this passed version strangely distinguishes between unaccompanied alien children from contiguous countries—they are returned to their home country—and those from elsewhere. For children from noncontiguous countries, the law requires they be placed into the lengthy U.S. removal proceedings process and be given the expanded benefits described above.

Predictably, the number of unaccompanied alien children encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection ballooned in the years that followed. This pull factor for unaccompanied alien children was made worse by the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Left argues that DACA recipients should not be removed because they were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were young children, but coming here accompanied is not a requirement for DACA eligibility. Instead, the alien need only have arrived here before turning 16 years old. Unsurprisingly, the number of unaccompanied alien children soon spiked to more than 68,500 in 2014.

CBP saw another spike in unaccompanied alien children being smuggled into the country in 2019, when the number surpassed 76,000. The Trump administration implored Congress to close the TVPRA loopholes to stop the flow of unaccompanied alien children, but Congress refused to fix the mess it made. It seems we now know why.

Candidate Joe Biden promised amnesty to illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as minors, including teenagers. His administration has opened the border and is being overwhelmed by unaccompanied alien children. The number of these children in detention tripled the last few weeks to 4,300, causing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the emergency. The Dallas Convention Center will soon house up to 3,000 teenage boys.

As the Biden administration seeks to process unaccompanied alien children into the country faster, Congress votes to give amnesty to “minors” who entered the U.S. before turning 19. Supporters repeat the same argument used for the UACPA: that this population should be given green cards because they came to the U.S. as “children,” even those on the threshold of being legally considered adults.

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If the claimed intent of the UACPA was to prevent the smuggling and trafficking of children, why would the Biden administration now continue to supply smugglers and traffickers with unaccompanied alien children? Now that we are seeing a third spike, why does the administration seek to accelerate the reception and release of unaccompanied alien children into the U.S.?

If someone in the administration would simply pause, take a step back, and look at the big picture, he or she would see that what's being done is enticing more parents to send their children into smugglers' and traffickers’ arms, and he or she would realize this course of action must be stopped.

Giving benefits and promising green cards endangers minors. The TVPRA has been a visible and consistent failure. It must be repealed. And Congress should again reject amnesty for those who broke the laws passed by Congress.

If the Biden administration and majority leaders in Congress don’t pause, reflect on the current border emergency that developed in mere weeks, and change course to stop the growing flow of unaccompanied alien children to our border, then we’ll know these aren’t unintended consequences. At this point, it’s difficult to conclude it's anything but on purpose. It is certainly inhumane. No longer can Democrats honestly claim they are “for the children.” And though they will continue to make that vacuous assertion in immigration and other contexts, no one should believe them.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner