Quick Fact Check: ‘Lost Children’ and Family Separation
Over the past several days, there have been a flurry of reports stating that federal authorities lost over a thousand unaccompanied alien children, on top of scathing criticism over children supposedly being ripped from the arms of their migrant parents at the border.
How accurate are these claims circulating online? Not very.
Are 1,400 unaccompanied alien children lost?
No, they are not lost. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) placed them, in the vast majority of cases, with parents or close relatives who are also in the country illegally. After a child is placed with a family member, HHS does a follow-up call after 30 days to check in and make sure everything is going alright. This practice is not mandated by statute – it is done out of concern for the welfare of the child.
In the last fiscal year, 14% of the aforementioned 30-day calls went unanswered. That translates to a little over 1,400 children. There could be a number of reasons why the calls went unanswered, but the most likely one is that many sponsors are in the country illegally and would rather not speak to a federal official calling them on the phone.
The bottom line is this – there is no reason to believe that anything bad has happened to the 1,400 children. If you call a friend or family member and they don’t pick up the phone, you don’t automatically assume that they are lost or kidnapped. That same thought process should apply here.
Are families being separated at the border?
The Trump administration hasn’t changed the policies around separating an adult from the child. Those remain unchanged from the prior administration. Separation happens only if officials find that the adult is falsely claiming to be the child’s parent, a threat to the child, or is put into criminal proceedings.
However, due to the Justice Department’s new zero-tolerance policy for all offenses referred for prosecution under 8 U.S.C. 1325 (illegal entry), family separation can occur and may increase. The Attorney General has been very clear that aliens who illegally enter the United States will be criminally prosecuted. They will not be given a free pass, irrespective of whether or not they have a child with them.
It’s also important to note that when a U.S. citizen is placed into federal custody for criminal prosecution, their children cannot go with them. This is clear for many crimes that are committed in the country every day. It would be unprecedented not to pursue a prosecution of federal law just because someone has a child.