The Obama Administration’s proposal to house unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors in Alabama not only defies logic, but continues the Administration’s ongoing disregard of relevant statutes, according to both of Alabama’s senators.
“Transporting some of these juveniles more than 900 miles away from our southern border to the State of Alabama, instead of expeditiously and humanely sending them back to their homes, will only make the situation worse,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson, Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Sylvia Burwell, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“It rewards illegal conduct, and arguably renders the United States complicit in criminal conspiracies to violate our immigration laws,” they added.
In recent years, the U.S.-Mexico border has experienced a surge in unaccompanied minors, largely from Central America, illegally crossing into the U.S. So far this fiscal year, 38,566 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at the border through May, 69 percent more than last year.
As the senators note, since the beginning of FY 2014, 147,077 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended, “yet only a small fraction have been removed from the United States.”
Instead of a swift removal from the U.S. back home, the Obama Administration, under the auspices of complying with a 2008 anti-trafficking law, has been transferring the illegal immigrants minors to the care of Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)’ and then to parents and relatives living — in many cases illegally — in the U.S. already.
The massive influx of illegal juveniles has put a strain on government resources and ORR’s ability to find temporary housing for the minors until they can be placed with relatives. According to Sessions and Shelby, ORR is considering two airfields at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, located in Baldwin County, Alabama to house more illegal immigrant minors.
“Just two years ago, President Obama sent a letter to Congress outlining his plans to handle the surge at our southern border. Two years later, it is clear that President Obama’s plans for handling the situation have failed,” they wrote in their letter to administration officials.
The pair further questioned the administration’s apparent failure to take action against the parents and family members who have likely played a role in having the minors smuggled to the U.S.
“This Administration has failed to take any enforcement action against these family members – most of whom had some role to play in the juveniles’ illegal entry into the United States. And many of those family members are present in the United States unlawfully,” Sessions and Shelby wrote.
“The Administration continues to prevent the use of any of a number of commonsense tools to protect the integrity of our immigration system and the sovereignty of this nation,” they added.
In addition to the Administration’s failure to stem the surge, the Alabamians took issue with it’s the use of the 2008 anti-trafficking law, known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), to place these minors in the U.S.
Indeed, under a plain reading of the Act, many of the illegal alien juveniles apprehended could be expeditiously and humanely sent back to their homes – because they do not meet the definition of an “unaccompanied alien child.” Pursuant to the TVPRA, an “unaccompanied alien child” who is apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security must be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is then responsible for their care and custody. However, the TVPRA defines an “unaccompanied alien child” by cross-referencing section 462(g) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. § 279(g)), which defines an “unaccompanied alien child” as an individual who has no lawful immigration status in the United States, who is under 18, and with respect to whom “there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States,” or “no parent or legal guardian in the United States is available to provide care and physical custody.” (emphasis added).
While it is unclear how many non-parent family members are legal guardians, in at least 60 percent of these cases there is a parent in the United States who can provide care and physical custody of the juveniles – meaning that arguably, they should have never been placed into ORR custody, never should have been released to the custody of their parents, and could have been expeditiously and humanely sent back home.
Sessions and Shelby went on to press the administration on its handling of the “sponsors” with whom ORR has placed juveniles — 91 percent of whom are family members of the minors — including if it has prosecuted any of the sponsors for immigration violations.