The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center says 13 unaccompanied immigrant children have arrived in Michigan in recent months, after their parents were turned back at the southern border.
Under the current policy, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, adults who seek asylum at the southern border have to wait in Mexico for their asylum claim to be processed.
The policy doesn’t apply to children.
"It's actually a more difficult situation in many ways than family separation," says Susan Reed of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Susan Reed, managing attorney at MIRC, says some families have decided it’s safer to send children back to the border alone, while the parents remain in Mexico.
She says some of those children have been sent to Michigan.
“It’s actually a more difficult situation in many ways than family separation from the point of view of the child, and from our point of view as legal advocates,” she says.
Under the previous Trump administration policy, federal officials separated children from their parents. But Reed says, because those parents remained in U.S. facilities, the parents could still be contacted by attorneys.
“As horrible as it was that parents were in detention, mostly at the border, we could find them, we could talk to them,” Reed says. “It wasn’t easy, but it was possible. And with some of the kids we’re encountering now, they don’t know where their families are.”
MIRC sent a letter this week to the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship about the policy. The subcommittee announced last week it would investigate the Migrant Protection Protocols.
MIRC’s letter says 13 minors have been sent to Michigan in the past three months. Their parents had previously been returned to Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols.
The parents of at least three of the children have “since been kidnapped or otherwise disappeared,” MIRC says in the letter.
One of the minors was kidnapped along with his parents before returning to the border.
“After being turned away from the port of entry, they took a taxi to a migrant shelter. The taxi was stopped en route, and father and son were abruptly pulled out and forcibly taken to a house where others were being held.”
MIRC says the child was later released after the family paid part of a ransom to the kidnappers.
“Not knowing where to go, he returned to the port of entry and was taken into [Customs and Border Protection] custody as an unaccompanied minor,” MIRC says. That child was then sent to Michigan.
The Department of Homeland Security has defended the Migrant Protection Protocols, saying the policy is necessary to deter people from taking advantage of the U.S. asylum laws.