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Unaccompanied Minors and Unintended Consequences

July 8, 2014 in Economics

By Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

Government policies have unintended consequences that can play out far into the future. There is perhaps no better example of this than the complex legal changes that have impacted the current surge of unaccompanied immigrant children (UAC) coming across the border. American policies crafted in the 1990s likely unintentionally had a role in incentivizing some of the migration and the smugglers that carry many of the migrants.

Two unrelated border policies have hobbled the government’s response to the surge in UAC. The first policy was about how the government should humanely treat apprehended UAC. Children used to be treated in the same way as adults were. That practice was challenged by a 15-year-old Salvadorian girl named Jenny Lisette Flores in a 1985 lawsuit that was finally settled in 1997.

Two unrelated border policies have hobbled the government’s response to the surge in unaccompanied immigrant children.”

Under the Flores settlement, as it became known, UAC were exempted from “expedited removal” — a newly created process in 1996 that allowed for removal of non-asylum seekers without a court hearing. Instead, it required the government to “ensure the prompt release of children” and place them “in the least restrictive setting appropriate” pending a court hearing. Parents, legal guardians and adult relatives of the UAC were the preferred appropriate settings designated by the government.

In 2002 and again in 2008, this legal framework was codified and clarified with very little resistance in Congress. At that time, few unaccompanied children were crossing illegally despite these relatively lenient policies. In 2008, Congress actually liberalized the Flores agreement considerably by making releases much less discretionary and moving temporary detention to Health and Human Services prior to the children being settled with their families or in foster care.

When it came up for a vote, 183 Republicans voted for the 2008 law. In fact, even Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the tough chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who just held a hearing entitled “An Administration-Made Crisis: The Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors,” voted for the current policy regime.

The 2008 bill was crafted by both the Republican and Democratic Judiciary Committee staff and was so uncontroversial that the final version passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and a voice vote in the House. It was then signed into law by a Republican president.

The second border policy unintentionally subsidized human smugglers who bring the UAC into …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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