Recently announced shifts in immigration policy and enforcement are likely to have an outsized effect on kids entering the country illegally as well as those with special status under Obama-era rules. The changes are not aimed at children but rather their relatives, often family members, who helped them enter the country. Advocates warn the result will be the breaking up of families and an increase of undocumented children in stateside detention centers.
The most significant change for kids comes from a new “surge initiative” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which targets the adult sponsors of unaccompanied undocumented children smuggled into the United States. Under Obama, children entering the country illegally from countries like Guatemala were placed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the hands of sponsors approved by Health and Human Services. In a few instances, the sponsors were improperly vetted, inadvertently placing kids with abusive adults, or with people who exploited them for labor.
The ICE initiative is meant to crack down on sponsors supporting the smuggling of undocumented children across the border, regardless of their intentions. But as sponsors, often parents and close relatives but sometimes family friends, are swept into the ICE net, children will likely be funneled into detention centers.
Placing a child in a detention center rather than in the hands of sponsors appears to be one way the Trump administration is looking to circumvent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) while appearing to tacitly support the program. The arrest of a sponsor means that a child will not be able to enter the education system, thus becoming eligible for special consideration under DACA.
President Trump has had a rocky relationship with the DACA program. His base would prefer the program be ended, as was promised by the then candidate Trump on the campaign trail. But since his election, perhaps realizing the political support the program has, the Trump administration has issued statements assuring Dreamers (as those protected under DACA are called) they can expect continued protection under the DACA.
But that is not the case for the parents of Dreamers. Another recent immigration shift came in June when the government declined to defend another Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). That program was meant to extend Dreamer protection to their parents but was quickly challenged in the courts. Its implementation was contingent on the legal outcome, but the government support of the program was ended in what Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called an act of “house cleaning.”
Because Dreamer parents do not receive the protection of their children, it is possible for them to be deported as the administration cracks down on illegal immigration. It’s likely families will be dismantled, leaving federally protected immigrant kids in limbo if they are unable to find a guardian or simply without family in the states if they are over 18.
Either way, the future of kids looking for a better life in the United States appears bleak, to say the least.