A recent U.S. government report found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deported thousands of Mexican unaccompanied alien children (UACs) under age 14 in violation of its own policies, without adequately screening them for independent decision-making or their fear of returning to Mexico.

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Tuesday detailing their audit of the DHS’s care of UACs. The report found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol agents who screened the children “have not consistently applied the required screening criteria or documented the rationale for decisions resulting from the screening.” Significantly, the report found that because of this inadequate screening, CBP repatriated “about 93 percent of Mexican UAC under age 14 from fiscal years 2009 through 2014 without documenting the basis for decisions.”

CBP’s poor screening may violate laws designed to protect children and CBP’s own screening policies on process, as laid out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). Under TVPRA, UACs may be repatriated if they are not victims of a “severe form of trafficking,” are not at risk of trafficking upon return, do not have credible fear of persecution, and, importantly – are able to make an independent decision about returning. According to CBP’s regulations, “children ‘under age 14 are presumed generally unable to make an independent decision,’” which would make them ineligible to be repatriated. It is estimated that more than 6,800 children were repatriated in violation of this regulation.

The GAO report also found that “DHS does not collect complete and reliable data on care provided to UAC or the length of time UAC are in DHS custody” and that available databases for documentation are not always used by agents. Furthermore, DHS may have violated provisions that require it to transfer UACs to HHS within 72 hours. The GAO audit found this transfer process to be “inefficient and vulnerable to errors” and lacking in “documented standard procedures.”

By not effectively documenting or screening Mexican children, CBP may be sending children back to potential danger, and is not meeting accountability obligations to Congress. Michael Tan of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in an interview with The Guardian pointed out “It’s common sense that in order for CBP to meet its obligation under law, it has to be reporting what its agents are doing. And of course, the fact that they aren’t, makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to hold them accountable to what Congress requires them to do.”

Photo by coolloud.

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