Every year, the Department of Homeland Security stops thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children attempting to enter the United States through its southern border. The majority of these children come from the area of Central America known as the Northern Triangle, comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The most common reason for their journey to the United States is to escape from violence, as these countries consistently rank among the world’s most violent.
After Customs and Border Protection, known as CBP, stops and processes the children, they are transferred to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR. ORR then attempts to find “sponsors” to take custody and care for the children while they go through formal removal proceedings in immigration court. Most commonly, sponsors are the children’s parents or other designated relatives or family friends. Sponsors are not required to have legal status and, in fact, many children are released to undocumented sponsors. For years, ORR has given priority to releasing children from detention to a safe placement as quickly as possible.
However, this policy has changed. The Trump administration started enforcing the executive order Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and the accompanying DHS memorandum. Among its provisions and implementing memo is a directive to the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the commissioner of CBP to enforce immigration laws against any individual who directly or indirectly facilitates the smuggling of non-citizen children into the country. The memo indicates that proper enforcement includes, but is not limited to, placing such individuals in removal proceedings or referring the individuals for criminal prosecution.
Based on anecdotal reports, CBP is now sharing with ICE information obtained from children in their custody, e.g., the sponsor’s name and location, prior to the children’s transfer to ORR custody. ICE’s stated purpose for these actions is the disruption and dismantling of transnational criminal and human smuggling operations. However, what these policies will actually accomplish is the separation of families after essentially using the children as bait. In this new climate, it is more important than ever for families to plan for what to do when encountering ICE or if ICE comes to the home. Families should also plan for who can care for a child if the primary caretaker becomes unavailable, particularly where the caretaker is undocumented.
CLINIC has produced a practice advisory, Working with Child Clients and Their Family Members in Light of the Trump Administration’s Focus on “Smugglers”, designed for practitioners representing child clients in removal proceedings or advising family members of child clients in removal proceedings. As reports of ICE arresting parents and family members emerge, this advisory provides guidance and suggestions to practitioners on best practices for mitigating the risk of civil immigration enforcement or criminal prosecution of family members of children in removal proceedings.