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Breaking Down the Law: Minors at the Border

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — The number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the southern border continues to climb, with a total of more than 4,000 minors now being housed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Over the weekend, FEMA was deployed to the southern border to provide additional housing resources, and the Dallas Convention Center is being prepared to provide additional space for unaccompanied minors.

While the Biden Administration refuses to call the situation at the southern border a “crisis,” it is currently estimated that nearly 600 unaccompanied minors are entering U.S. custody per day.

Obviously, there is an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors being held here in the U.S. What is it about minors that makes things different in the legal process?

That is really the key component in what we’re seeing at the border.

It’s not necessarily an increase in illegal crossings, overall; it is an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border.

Minors have different protections at the border than adults, and there is a process they must receive.

First and foremost, it is important to know that unaccompanied minors from Canada and Mexico are treated differently than minors from other countries.

If the minor is from Canada or Mexico, they are almost immediately returned to child welfare officials in those countries, often within 48 hours.

But when the minors are from other countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, what have you, the process is quite lengthy.

Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement screen the minor to determine their country of origin. If they are not from Canada or Mexico, the minor is transferred to the Dept. of Health & Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. This must be done within 72 hours. Minors stay in the custody of Health & Human Services for an average of around 5 months. Must receive food, water, medical services, bathroom facilities, and climate-controlled shelter.

Once with Health & Human Services, the minors are screened to determine if they are victims of human trafficking or have a credible fear of death or torture if they’re sent to their home country.

Basically screening to see if they have a possible case for asylum.

If the minor has a family member or sponsor in the U.S. available to take custody and care for them, the minor is released to their custody while their immigration case processes.

There is a huge backlog of cases, and it could be years before the case moves forward. In the meantime, the minors are allowed to live in the U.S.

What is interesting is that 75% of the unaccompanied minors are aged 15-17. This is not an accident, since most will be adults by the time they are scheduled to go to court. Doubtful many of them will go, but they will have made it to the U.S. and be living here thanks to their status as a minor.

Because so many minors have been apprehended at the border the last few months, Health & Human Services have run out of space. That is why FEMA is now involved.

What is behind the recent surge in cases, and how does the pandemic play a part in all this?

It is political. I’m really not interested in the political finger-pointing or labeling this as a “crisis.” FEMA is involved, so it’s obviously a problem, arguably a disaster. But the best way I could think of to explain what has happened is to think of being a local here in Las Vegas.

If you want to go to a pool at one of the casinos on the strip, most require you to be a guest, but some don’t enforce this and will allow locals to come in. Which property are you going to go to? That’s a little like what we seeing at the border.

Under President Trump, U.S. immigration laws were strictly enforced, whereas President Biden promised during his campaign that he would bring back DACA and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors. As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of unaccompanied minors trying to enter the U.S.

As for the pandemic, pretty much anyone apprehended at the border under President Trump was sent back to their country of origin. This was done pursuant to an Emergency Health Order. That Health Order was rescinded by President Biden.

But there are growing concerns with minors being held without social distancing guidelines enforced, and there are numerous documented cases of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 being released into the country rather than quarantined.

This raises health concerns not just for those being detained at the border, but for the potential spread of Covid-19 in the U.S. at a point where we are just starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

So it begs the question of why we are seeing loose restrictions on border crossings when we are being told every day that we are still in a pandemic and still have to wear masks and keep businesses at a limited capacity.

Obviously, something has to give.