Senators Introduce Bill to ‘Ensure Prompt Return of Unaccompanied Alien Children’

Barbara Hollingsworth | February 26, 2016 | 2:59pm EST
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Unaccompanied alien children at a Border Patrol holding center in Arizona. (AP photo)

( – Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced a bill that would “ensure a prompt return of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) who illegally cross the southern border” after their numbers more than doubled during the first four months of the current fiscal year.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there was a 102 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied alien children (20,455) who were apprehended at the southwest border between Oct. 1, 2015 and Jan. 31, 2016 compared to 10,105 apprehended during the same time period in FY2015.

However, less than four percent (4,680) of the 127,193 UACs who have been caught illegally entering the U.S. over the past two and a half years have been sent back home because the vast majority do not show up for their deportation hearings, Sessions noted during a Judiciary Committee hearing held earlier this week.

“Nobody’s looking for them. The system is not working. All you have to do is just come into the country unlawfully, be released into the country, and if you don’t show up for court, you’re never looked for and deported,” the senator pointed out.

The Protection of Children Act of 2016  (S.2561) “amends the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to provide expedited processing for unaccompanied alien children who are not victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons and who do not have a fear of returning to their country of nationality or last habitual residence,” according to a press release from Sessions’ office.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). (AP photo)

Bemoaning the "virtual collapse of enforcement" of the nation's immigration laws, Sessions - who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest - said in a statement that "the only way to stop the illegality is to ensure those who enter unlawfully, including children, are treated well but returned home quickly...

“Assurance of being returned sends a powerful message louder than words. The word will spread and the number attempting illegal entry will quickly fall,” Sessions predicted.

“The Protection of Children Act eliminates a well-intentioned but misguided policy that incentivizes children to embark on the dangerous journey to the United States,” said Johnson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“If enacted, this bill will address the current humanitarian crisis at our border head-on. I am pleased to support this legislation with Sen. Sessions.”

The bill also requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to provide Congress prior notification of the name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, immigration status and contact information for any adult with whom an UAC who has been allowed to remain in the U.S. is to be placed.

If an investigation of the adult’s immigration status determines that he or she is also in the U.S. illegally, the bill requires HHS to “initiate removal proceedings.”

The bill also closes several current loopholes in the law. One loophole allows some unaccompanied minors to have their asylum claims heard twice and another allows children with one parent living in the U.S. to receive Special Immigrant Juvenile status that was intended for minors abandoned by both parents.

A companion bill introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) passed the House last year.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, 33,726 UACs, a majority of them teenaged boys, were referred to the department in FY2015.

Twice as many unaccompanied males (68%) as females (32%) entered the U.S. last year. Sixty-eight percent were 15 years of age or older. Only 17 percent were under the age of 12, HHS reported.

Guatemala was the top country of origin, accounting for 45 percent of all UACs apprehended at the border, followed by El Salvador (29%) and Honduras (17%).  

Related: Illegal Immigration Surge: 106% More Unaccompanied Minors, 173% More ‘Family Units’ Apprehended

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