Richard Hudson, acting chief of Law Enforcement Operations Directorate with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said at a hearing on Thursday that, in recent months, agents have apprehended 41,000 children without parents or guardians and encountered as many as a quarter of a million since 2014 at the U.S. border with Mexico.
“Between Oct. 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018, more than 41,000 UACs have been apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol,” Hudson said, noting that 7,000 of those were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry.
“Since 2014, when we saw the first surge of UACs, CBP has encountered nearly 250,000 UAC’s along the southwest border,” Hudson said.
“These children arrive at our border after a difficult and dangerous journey, and many have been subjected to abuse at the hands of human traffickers, criminals, and opportunists,” Hudson said.
“The men and women of CBP treat each of these children with the utmost professionalism and compassion,” Hudson said. “…and work to ensure their welfare while they are in our custody.”
The hearing focused on how UACs taken into federal custody can be protected from human trafficking and other criminal enterprises when released to family or sponsors in U.S. communities.
Hudson noted that there is a backlog of more than 700,000 cases on UACs and that it can take “years” for the cases to work their way through the system.
Moreover, when children are placed in communities around the U.S., the government can lose track of them, and this can put them at risk. Hudson said:
It is important to note that current laws and court rulings which favor the release of family units and UACs often require the federal government to release illegal alien families and UACs into communities across the United States. This practice has not only led to aliens failing to appear for court hearings and failing to comply with removal orders but has also incentivized smugglers to place children into the hands of adult strangers so they can pose as families and be released from immigration custody after crossing the border.
This creates a safety issue for these children, who have already made an extremely dangerous journey to reach the United States, risking possible trauma, abuse, abandonment, injury, and death along the way.
The hearing follows a subcommittee report on the federal government’s handling of UACs and ahead of legislation that lawmakers said they would be crafted to address the issue.
“There is plenty of blame to go around, but I’m a lot more interested in solving the problem than making this into a partisan issue,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), chairman of the subcommittee said at the start of the hearing.
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