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Biden should improve on Obama's effort to protect unaccompanied children

Biden should improve on Obama's effort to protect unaccompanied children
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Biden has moved swiftly to dismantle former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE’s border security and interior enforcement measures. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claims that this is causing an increase in illegal migrant crossings, drug smuggling, and cartel activity — which is creating a humanitarian crisis in Texas.

Abbott’s claim is supported by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics that show the apprehension of illegal border crossers averaged about 3,000 per day in January and rose to around 3,600 in February.

CBP has apprehended 382,617 illegal crossers in the first five months of fiscal 2021, which is almost as many as the 405,036 apprehensions in all of fiscal 2020.

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These illegal crossers aren’t just coming from Mexico and Central America. They are coming from all over the world, including from countries that are of terrorism concern to the United States. For instance, 11 Iranians were caught making illegal entries at the Arizona border last month.

Also, the State of Florida is suing Biden because officials there say his prioritization of enforcement measures has resulted in more crimes and is costing the state more in law enforcement resources.

It may not be possible to stop the surge in illegal migration while Biden is our president, but it should be possible to reduce the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) — for their sake.

Every alien faces hardship and danger on the journey from Central America to the United States, but it is particularly dangerous for children. Even former president Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden expected to tap Rahm Emanuel for Japan ambassador Baltimore businessman enters Maryland governor race Press: Let us now praise Liz Cheney MORE tried to stop UACs from coming here.

Some 5,694 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border in January, and the number rose to 9,297 in February.

Fish amidst sharks

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Coming to the United States from Central America is one of the most dangerous trips in the world. The migrants making that journey are victims of physical and sexual assaults, extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

A February 2020 report from Doctors Without Borders states that these migrants are the proverbial fish amidst sharks. Nearly 60 percent of them have reported being the victims of violence.

Former Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf is particularly concerned about the children who are brought here by smugglers. Smugglers have zero regard for the lives they endanger.

An alternative to the dangerous journey

Seven years ago, Obama tried to persuade Central American parents that they shouldn’t send their children to the United States by themselves.

More than 50,000 UACs had made the perilous journey from Central America on buses and on so called “death trains” to apply for asylum here.

Obama’s DHS Secretary, Jeh C. Johnson, posted an open letter telling parents that, among other things, the criminal smuggling networks they were paying to take their children to the United States had no regard for the children’s safety and well-being.

He claimed that in the hands of these smugglers, many children were being traumatized and psychologically abused — and some were beaten, starved, sexually assaulted, or sold into the sex trade.

In an article I wrote in July 2014, I proposed asking the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to process Central American children for refugee status at safe locations near their home countries.

In September 2014, Obama established the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program, which provided in-country processing of refugee applications for certain Central American children.

The program also considered admission to the United States on a parole basis for children who could not establish eligibility for refugee status.

Although the CAM program was intended to provide a safe alternative to the dangerous journey that unaccompanied children were making to the United State, it was only offered to the children of Central American parents who were lawfully present in the United States. Consequently, it did not accomplish its objective.

Biden is restarting the CAM program, but it isn’t likely to be successful this time either unless he makes major changes to the way it’s operated.

First, he has to make the CAM program the only way for unaccompanied children to present their persecution claims. This means limiting UAC asylum proceedings to the children who are here already and moving the children who come in the future to safe locations in or near their own countries where UNHCR can process them for refugee status and arrange to send those who do establish such status to the United States and other countries that are accepting refugees.

Otherwise, they aren’t likely to take advantage of the CAM program. They are far more likely to be able to migrate successfully to the United States if they come here as unaccompanied children than if they seek refugee status in the CAM program.

According to the 2020 Enforcement Lifecycle Report, only 4.3 percent of the 290,000 unaccompanied children who came directly to the United States between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2019 were returned to their own countries.

That means that 95.7 percent of them were able to remain in the United States.

That’s a much greater success rate than CAM program applicants experienced. Only 3,000 (23 percent) of 13,000 CAM program children were admitted to the United States as refugees or parolees.

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Second, Biden needs to work with UNHCR to make his CAM program available to all of the children in Central American who have persecution claims. This is essential if future UACs are not going to be allowed to apply for asylum in the United States.

If Biden focusses instead on keeping his immigration campaign promises, children will continue to face the perils of the journey to America.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow his blog at https://nolanrappaport.blogspot.com.