BreakPoint: 1,500 “Missing” Children

You may have heard the government has lost 1,500 kids who crossed the border illegally. That’s not really the case, and it misses the real outrage. The most-discussed story in the news recently has been about the 1500 “missing” children. Twitter hashtags such as “#WhereAreTheChildren” and “#MissingChildren” were created and used by the right and the left to express outrage. There’s only two problems… first, many have misunderstood what’s going on. And second, that confusion has obscured the real outrage: how our government is treating vulnerable families. The 1,500 missing children story comes from the Senate testimony of HHS official Steven Wagner. He told senators that the Office of Refugee Resettlement “had lost track of 1,475 children . . . who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on their own . . . and subsequently were placed with adult sponsors in the United States.” It was a startling admission. But then, the story was conflated with an announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that, in the case of families crossing the border illegally, children would be separated from their parents. Here are Sessions exact words, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.” Thus, the popular version of the story became that the government had taken nearly 1,500 kids from their parents and then, somehow, lost them. But in reality, that’s not what happened. There are two different stories here about two different groups of children. The 1,475 kids Wagner spoke of were part of a large group of unaccompanied minors from Central America who came to the U.S. border starting in 2014. Those admitted to the U. S were turned over to the Office for Refugee Resettlement who, in turn, released approximately 90 percent of them into the custody of relatives. The rest were placed in the care of non-related sponsors. One thousand four hundred seventy-five of these minors did not respond to recent attempts to be contacted. As the former head of the Office for Refugee Resettlement explained to NPR, there’s nothing nefarious going on here. The most likely scenario is that the children or their sponsors feared deportation. They don’t want to be contacted. Of course, it would be better to know where these kids are, but this story is really about the strange inefficiencies of government. The other story, which is far more important and has been confused with this one, is that our government has made separating children from their parents part of immigration policy. As I explained a few months ago, “For the past year, officials at the Department of Homeland Security are considering separating detained families as a means to discourage migrants from entering the country.” It’s now beyond the consideration stage. Families that cross the border illegally today run the risk of having their children taken away. And I will repeat this, too: reasonable people can disagree about contentious issues like immigration, the number of asylum seekers we should admit and under what criteria we grant asylum. But separating children from parents is cruel, unless the child is in danger. If a family has entered the U.S. illegally and has no legal right to be here, then deport them expeditiously. If we lack the resources to do this, then we need to re-allocate the resources we have. But weaponizing familial bonds to deter people from trying to enter the United States is completely unacceptable. Through this practice, our government is showing disregard for the centrality of family—or at least some people’s families. Christians have a unique responsibility and ability to speak up. We’ve got a voice that could change this particular policy. Call your representatives in Congress. Write the White House. We can have common sense immigration policy, without cruelty. And no hashtag is required.   1,500 “Missing” Children: Let’s Talk about the Real Problem Be sure you have all the facts, then use your voice to speak up. As John said, separating children from their families is cruel. We can make a difference by presenting our concerns to the officials who put immigration policies in place.


John Stonestreet


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