Politics & Policy

The Feds Prepared for the ‘Surprise’ Surge of Child Migrants

Illegal immigrant children at an HHS facility in Texas.
Immigration authorities anticipated the consequences of Obama-administration laxity.

When tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien children poured across the southern border in the past few months, many Americans were surprised. But government documents suggest that federal immigration authorities, to some extent, anticipated the crisis and prepared for it.

Over the last month, Americans have been bombarded by images of thousands of children, mostly from Central America, tightly packed in refugee camps on the southern border. This fiscal year has already seen about 47,000 unaccompanied alien children (“UACs”) cross the border, according to the Obama administration, already more than double the number of the previous year. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress that the influx represents “a problem of humanitarian proportions.”

Meanwhile, the website that displays federal contracts shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security, posted two Requests for Information (RFIs) seeking “escort services” for unaccompanied children this spring. The contractors are to convey UACs from the custody of U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies to shelters throughout the continental U.S. run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The first request, posted January 29 and noticed by the conservative website Weasel Zippers June 20, sought escort services for 65,000 UACs.

When asked whether that request showed that ICE was anticipating the immigrant “surge,” months before it happened, Carl Rusnok, a spokesperson for ICE, provided the following statement to NRO:

The number of UACs apprehended along the southwest border has increased significantly for each of the past three fiscal years. After an initial influx in 2012, ICE began contingency planning and reallocating resources in order to better meet the increased demand for UAC transports. At that time ICE began exploring various options to reduce costs and increase its efficiencies in transporting UACs.

The latest RFI, posted by ICE on June 17, is significantly shorter and seems to downplay the emphasis on children. Rather than give specific numbers, it says only that “among the groups of aliens transferred from CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] to ICE are unaccompanied alien children.”

However, the more recent request is posted alongside a Statement of Work (SOW), whose numerous references to UACs make it clear that children are the primary concern. Rusnok said the second request and the SOW, which offers more specific details about the services needed, were released “to increase the level of competition in the field.”

The SOW reveals meticulous plans for the contractors’ day-to-day work: Section F stipulates that children are to be given three meals a day, whose nutritional content conforms to the standards set by the Department of Agriculture. Subsection B of Section F dictates that seconds “shall be available” to the children and their families if desired. Vegetarians will also be accommodated.

Section D admonishes contractors to, “at all times, demonstrate cultural sensitivity and age-sensitive conduct.” Likewise, “Contractor staff shall not display favoritism or preferential treatment to one UAC or group of UAC over another.” Also: “No Contractor personnel shall enter into a personal relationship with any UAC.”

Section J deals with emergencies including hunger strikes, hostage situations, and deaths, while section N deals with the use of restraints. Contractors are instructed: “Do not handcuff juveniles during transport unless there is evidence or a perceived threat of violent behavior, a history of criminal activity, or other reasons to believe the alien is an escape risk.”

Rusnok confirmed that the procedures outlined in the SOW more or less reflect current ICE practice for dealing with the tens of thousands of under-age migrants now crossing the border. The exception: Children who are being escorted long-distance within the U.S. are being accompanied by armed federal law-enforcement officers rather than unarmed contractors.

According to a June 22 Associated Press article, children who have come across the border “can effectively remain in the U.S. for years before facing even a moderate risk of deportation.”

In the meantime, apparently, the federal government will be taking care of them.

— Spencer Case is an intern at National Review.

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