On Monday, May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued orders that parents entering the U.S. illegally will have their children taken away from them. The decision was met with harsh criticism from many, who felt both that separating families is wrong and that the federal government lacks the means to help the newly "orphaned" children. It turns out these fears were well founded—since Sessions' edict has taken effect, the government has lost 1,475 children. Just straight up lost them.
This information was revealed by Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services's Administration for Children and Families, during a testimony before Congress, though the horror of what he was saying went largely unnoticed at the time. In 2017, between October and December, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) contacted the sponsors of the 7,635 in their care. 6,075 remained with their sponsors, 80 had left for explainable reasons (deported, relocated, ran away), and a whopping 1,475 children's whereabouts were simply unknown.
Many fear the worst for these missing children. A documentary by Frontline revealed that in 2014, the government released at least 8 teens into the custody of human traffickers.
1475 children lost. Children. Innocents. What kind of country are we becoming? This is just soul crushing. https://t.co/hjoye9FApr— Dmitri Palmateer (@Dmitri Palmateer) 1527219382.0
Though Sessions is cracking down on separating all children from parents, this isn't a new behavior for the U.S. government. Over 700 children have been taken since October 2017, 100 of whom were less than 4 years old. The logic behind Session's insistence on such drastic action is the idea that illegal immigrants should be treated like domestic criminals who have been jailed. He's stated:
If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It's that simple.
I hereby demand that the almost 1500 lost children be found and returned to their parents.— Jane Lynch (@Jane Lynch) 1527309279.0
The only hope some of these families have at being reunited is immigration court, but the system is so inefficient and backlogged that, even if things go well, it could be years before the children see their parents again. In the meantime, many of the children may have been released to someone claiming to be a family member. Federal officials claim they're "not legally responsible for the kids once they are released from the refugee office."
To be fair, the government lost these children before Session's announcement, but it also begs the question: should the ORR be doubling down on taking children away from their parents when they can't even keep track of the ones they have?
@deray Where are these children? How can lost children not be a national emergency?— Tallulah Bunkbed (@Tallulah Bunkbed) 1527217105.0
H/T - Refinery 29, NBC News, Getty Images