- By Jack Torry Washington Bureau
A Senate panel chaired by Sen. Rob Portman concludes that the federal government has failed to take responsibility for making certain that immigrant children who enter the United States on their own are kept safe or making certain they show up for immigration hearings.
In a scathing report which criticizes both the Obama and Trump administrations, the panel has determined tens of thousands of what are known as unaccompanied alien children under the age of 18 are in legal limbo because the Justice Department has not hired enough immigration judges to hear their cases.
The report, produced by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said that once a child is placed in a sponsor’s home, no federal agency makes certain the sponsors are taking the children to immigration hearings.
“No federal agency claims legal responsibility or authority to ensure” the children “are not being trafficked or abused” once they are placed in the home of a sponsor, according to the report.
The subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday in which senior officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department will testify.
In a statement accompanying the report, Portman, R-Ohio, said “this is an incredibly difficult issue and it’s not a partisan one. The problems that exist today began during the previous administration and have continued under this one.”
“These federal agencies must do more to care for unaccompanied minors and ensure they aren’t trafficked or abused,” Portman said, adding the “report details some small progress but also a glaring need for these agencies to take more responsibility for ensuring these children are safe and appear at their immigration court proceedings.”
In a sharp joint statement, the three agencies called the report “misleading” and said it “demonstrates fundamental misunderstandings of law and policy related to the safety and care of” the unaccompanied children.
“The subcommittee does not focus on the real challenges with preventing children from being smuggled and trafficked in the first place, nor does the subcommittee capture the extensive work done to protect (the children) once they arrive here,” the joint statement said.
“To make matters worse, the report does not address key national security and criminal issues, such as (children) involvement in gang activity, the benefits to transnational criminal organizations to smuggle or traffic individuals to the US, and the drain on our immigration enforcement system,” according to the joint statement.
The 52-page report was made available to reporters Wednesday. It concludes that there are 80,226 “pending cases” before the immigration courts.
Although the report blames both the Obama and Trump administration, it asserts during “the past four months,” the Trump administration “took steps that exacerbated these problems,” a reference to the Justice Department’s decision this spring to separate children from their parents trying to cross the border.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking subcommittee Democrat and a 1968 graduate of Ohio State University, said the Trump administration “continues to make an already challenging reality for migrant children even more difficult and more dangerous.”