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No, President Obama, Central American Children Are Not Likely to Be Deported

In fact, children from Central America have over a 95% chance of not being deported.

In what he thought would be a breezy joint press conference with the Italian Prime Minister, President Obama’s comfort bubble was pricked by an unapproved question from Washington Post reporter David Nakamura.

To better understand the full import of the question, it is necessary to know what happened first.

The question immediately followed the tail end of Obama’s speech, in which he peddled the same policy to address Central American migration that he started during “border crisis” that dominated the headlines in the summer of 2014:

“But one area where we have seen a big spike over the last several years is actually from the smaller countries in Central America, where the economy is doing poorly; agriculture has done poorly, in part, because of changing weather patterns; violence brought on by narcotraffickers.

So Vice President Biden — I gave him the charge of working with those countries to come up with a development plan; Congress on a partisan basis supported us putting more money into these countries for development, more effective policing, dealing with fighting the narcotraffickers in a more effective way, investing in young people.
But that’s not going to happen overnight. That will be a decade- long process potentially.

In the meantime, we insist that those countries cooperate with us to send a message to the populations that it is a dangerous trip to reach the United States. And if you get here, you’re likely to be turned back, to try to discourage a — this dangerous passage but also to try to undermine the human traffickers who are preying on the desperation of these people to make money.” (Emphasis added)

If one were to sum up this administration’s policy towards Central American migrants entering the U.S. at the Southwest border in one sentence, it would be “If you get here, you’re likely to be turned back.” In one word, “Deterrence.”

Starting in 2014, the White House has directed DHS, the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, as well as the the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to implement policies (some of which have been ruled illegal by Courts)  to deter unaccompanied children and mothers with children from reaching the United States’ southwest border.

Yet despite the untold billions of dollars spent, the number of unaccompanied children and mothers with children from Central America apprehended at the Southwest border was higher in FY 2016 than FY 2014, when the deterrence policies were first set into motion.

In this context, the Washington Post reporter asked President Obama whether the higher number of Central American apprehensions in 2016 meant that the policy  of deterrence, which the President just mentioned minutes earlier, was ineffective.

President Obama did not answer for his policies on Central American children because his they have failed spectacularly due to a combination of special  legal protections bestowed on immigrant children by Congress; incompetence, logistical obstacles; and the indefatigable will of caring adults to protect children from harm.

The Vast Majority of Central American Children Who Arrive in the United States Are Eligible for Asylum Or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in the United States 

Congress enacted laws that bestowed additional humanitarian protections to unaccompanied and accompanied children. Children are more likely to be eligible for asylum than adults as a general matter given that they are more vulnerable to harm that rises to the level of persecution than adults are. Children who cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment are eligible for permanent protection in the United States as special immigrant juveniles. (SIJS) Adults are not.

The statistics do not lie.

For example,  approximately 12,190 the 35,601 unaccompanied children placed in deportation proceedings in 2014 who were represented by an attorney, were granted asylum, SIJS relief, or prosecutorial discretion.

At the same time, only 2,345 of that same 35,601 children were ordered removed by an immigration judge, and 15,170 children’s cases remained pending.

As such, if an unaccompanied children can get a lawyer, they are likely to be allowed to stay in the United States and be granted a green card.

With respect to mothers with children (AWC), the ratio of removals to relief granted is markedly different.

Approximately 1,921 out of the 17,083 represented mothers with children who were placed in deportation proceedings in 2014 were granted relief through asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, or prosecutorial discretion. There were more ordered removed: 3320 out of 17,083. The largest share of cases remain pending–11,203 out of 17,083.

To date, for mothers with children, they are more likely to be ordered removed than to be granted relief. However, given that such a significant percentage of the 17,083 remain pending, it is premature to speculate as to whether more will ultimately be ordered removed or granted relief.

However, the reality is that the more than half of the represented mothers with children who Obama has been trying to deport since 2014 have not even had their case decided. Thus, if a mother with children can obtain a lawyer, her family is not likely to be turned back, at least not yet.

The Obama Administration Is Inept at Deporting Unaccompanied Children

According to  Sarah Saldana, ICE removed a total of 7,643 Unaccompanied Children (UC) from FY 2012 through FY 2015. As of March 10, 2016, the DHS removed at most 336 UC in FY 2016.

From FY 2012 to FY 2016, DHS apprehended a total of 231,365 UCs. Of the latter, 35,695 were ordered removed or granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge in the same period.

As such, an unaccompanied minor has roughly a 96% chance of not being deported from the United States. Even for those who were ordered deported by an immigration judge, only 77% chance of not being deported.

The head of ICE’s enforcement arm, Thomas Homan, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that trying to find children to remove is hard, attributing part of the blame on the Spanish media and NGOS for “educating these folks on how not to comply with law enforcement, so there has been many situations where we have been at the residence and we know they are there,  but they won’t open the door, and my officers don’t have the authority of course to go into that house. So, it’s getting more difficult…”

But, the logistical difficulties alone in apprehending unaccompanied children are only one of several reasons that explain the Obama administration’s systematic failure at life:

In a March 9, 2016 press release, Jeh Johnson described the contours of “Operation Border Guardian” as follows:

The focus of this operation are those who came here illegally as unaccompanied children after January 1, 2014, and are now over 18, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or claim of asylum or other relief.

Why is DHS is only targeting unaccompanied children who are now over the age of 18? Because if a UC is under the age of 18, ICE must transfer that child to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement .(“ORR”) ORR, in turn, is required by law to advocate for the best interests of the child. ICE does not want to spend resources on apprehending a child just to lose them to the custody to ORR. Here’s why:

Many, if not most,  of the children targeted in Operation Border Guardian, were never given an opportunity to apply for asylum or seek other relief in the United States prior to being ordered removed by the immigration judge. Therefore, in an ironic twist, if ICE apprehended a child under 18, that child may finally get a chance to apply for asylum while in the custody of ORR.

It may be that these selective enforcement actions are indicative of  primary policy goal of the Obama administration as applied to UCs:  to minimize the total number of UCs granted asylum or SIJS relief in the United States. In the administration’s mind, this works as a deterrent as well: if a child is granted a green card, the child’s family will tell their relatives and friends still in Central American that they can get a green card, too, if they come to the United States.

To be clear, President Obama wants to mass deport UCs,  but he failed to convince his own party to gut the TVPRA so that he could detain and deport UCs without ever allowing them to go before an immigration judge in a June 30, 2014 letter:

providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; and

The Obama Administration Is Inept At Deporting Mothers With Children

From FY 2014 to FY 2016, the Obama administration deported approximately 782 mothers with children. In the same time period, DHS apprehended 185,957 mothers with children. Of those apprehended, 32,377 were ordered removed or granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge.

(I pieced together the numbers from ICE’s own releases to the press as well as a TRAC statistical tool that provides the number of individuals deported from each ICE detention facility, which includes Karnes, Dilley, Berks, and Artesia, for FY 2015.)

As such, a family has 99.5% chance of not being deported from the United States. A family ordered deported by an immigration judge has a 97.5% chance of not being removed, although this does not account for those who were ordered removed pursuant to an administrative order of removal.


No, President Obama, children from Central America are not likely to be turned back.





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