Unknown Fate Of Thousands Of Unaccompanied Minors Who Illegally Crossed The U.S. Southern Border

Lost Child

Since the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency in January 2021, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has been steeply rising. The spike is largely caused by President Biden’s promises to initiate a comprehensive immigration reform plan and come up with more flexible and “humane” immigration laws. This instigated thousands of immigrants from Central America to hit the road and risk their lives, in hopes of reaching the U.S.-Mexican border and applying for political asylum in the U.S. Many fall easy prey to criminal gangs and human traffickers along the way. The fate of some of them is not much better on the other side of the border.

In contrast to the previous years’ data, when the majority of the illegal immigrants crossing the border were single male adults, the majority of them now are families with children and unaccompanied minors. In the 2021 fiscal year alone, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 145,000 unaccompanied minors and this number has nearly doubled since 2019. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires the Department of Homeland Security to release apprehended minors from non-contiguous countries, i.e., not from Mexico and Canada, within 72 hours, and place them with sponsors in the U.S. Due to the time constraint and the fact that the minors are held in grossly overcrowded facilities, the sponsors oftentimes are not properly vetted, which by itself poses a danger. By September 2021, it was reported that the government had lost track of about one-third of the minors who were released to live with sponsors and their fate remains unknown.

 After the minors are released and placed with the sponsors, they can then stay in the U.S. for many years, waiting for their court hearings, and only about 3.5 percent of them are returned to their countries of origin. The recent wave shows no signs of slowing down. Since the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year, which started in October 2021, about 22,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border, and their number will set another record by the end of the year if this trend continues.

Photo by Andrew Neel

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