4 Things The Media Won’t Tell You About The Border Crisis
By John Daniel Davidson 20, 2018
The images and stories now being reported from the southern border—families torn apart, children crying for their parents, parents with no idea where their children are—are disturbing and heartbreaking
The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy has obviously created chaos along the border, tasking already overburdened federal agencies with the seemingly impossible job of taking into custody everyone—men, women, and children—caught crossing the border illegally. The number of children taken from their parents and placed in federal custody climbed to about 2,000 from April 19 through May 31, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security. With border facilities overwhelmed, some teenagers are now being housed in temporary shelters outside El Paso.
But the reporting from the border has also been incomplete, misleading, and at times biased and emotionally overwrought. It’s no secret the mainstream media disagrees with Trump’s push to crack down on illegal immigration and tighten border security, but that shouldn’t excuse the lack of nuance and granularity in much of the reporting we’ve seen over the past week or so.
Illegal immigration and its attendant problems along the U.S.-Mexico border are vastly complex and defy easy solutions. With that in mind, here are four key aspects of the border crisis that the media has failed to report or adequately explain.
1. Prior To ‘Zero Tolerance,’ Families Who Crossed The Border Illegally Were Often Released
For a long time, the vast majority of illegal border crossers were single men from Mexico looking for work. Dealing with them was a fairly straightforward matter: most would be immediately deported to Mexico. It’s not that there weren’t families and unaccompanied minors also illegally entering, but they made up a small subset of illegal immigration.
Beginning in 2014, the situation changed. Large numbers of families and unaccompanied minors began showing up on the border in unprecedented numbers, many seeking asylum from dangerous criminal gangs in their home countries. Most of these foreign citizens were from Central America, not Mexico, and under a 2008 federal law designed to protect victims of human trafficking, migrants from noncontiguous countries have a right to a deportation hearing.
That meant the Obama administration had to figure out what to do with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and families that could not be quickly deported. Some were placed in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) along the border, but because shelter space was limited, many more were placed with family members while they awaited hearings. Thousands have waited more than three years for a hearing, and thousands more have been ordered to be removed from the country in absentia (they never showed up for their hearing).
During this time, Obama was attacked from the Left for operating family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. A New York Times editorial from July 2016 criticized the administration’s detention policies, saying the “privately run, unlicensed lockups are no place for children. Or mothers.”
A year earlier, a federal judge had ordered the administration to close two centers in Texas, citing the 1997 court settlement Flores v. Reno, which requires the government to hold children in the “least-restrictive setting” in places that are “licensed to care for children,” and to release them without delay to their parents or other adult relatives whenever possible. The Obama administration unsuccessfully appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the district court’s ruling that Flores applied to all children, accompanied or not. But the court also said the administration could detain parents who crossed illegally.
The Obama administration responded to these rulings with a combination of deportation raids targeting criminals and a “catch-and-release” policy for families apprehended at the border, who would usually be issued notices to appear at an immigration hearing at some later date. This “catch-and-release” policy is what the Trump administration is trying to end.
To that end, Trump has invoked Flores as the reason for separating parents and children, saying the settlement limits what federal agencies can do with children brought here illegally and apprehended at the border. He blames congressional Democrats for failing to negotiate on an immigration bill that would solve the problem—although saddling Democrats with all the blame is disingenuous. Republicans have also failed to act on immigration (although now they say they’re ready to pass a bill to keep families together).
The media have been nearly unanimous in contradicting Trump, arguing that Flores does not force the federal government to separate parents and children, and that the administration has discretion in how it treats these families.
Both sides have a point. Flores does indeed limit how long, and under what circumstances, federal immigration authorities can detain children. But it only “forces” the separation of families if the parents are detained and prosecuted for illegal entry. In that case, families are separated because children can’t stay with their parents if the parents are in criminal custody.
Before Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, families caught crossing illegally were often released within a few days and the parents fitted with an electronic ankle monitor to reduce the likelihood of them absconding. Back in March, when I was reporting on the border in McAllen, Texas, I met a number of people from Central America who were wearing an ankle monitor. Most planned to cut it off and throw it away when they got to where they were going.
2. Illegal Immigrants Who Are Released Often Fail To Appear At Court Hearings
Indeed, failure to appear at court hearings is a major problem in our immigration system—one the media is glossing over in its coverage of the border crisis.
According to the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), the office that handles all immigration cases, a significant number of illegal immigrants who are released from custody never show up for their court hearings. Statistics from 2016 (PDF) show that “non-detained aliens,” which include those who were never detained and those who were released on bond or their own recognizance, failed to show up for court hearings in 39 percent of completed immigration cases—a 110 percent increase compared to 2012.