The federal government is losing track of a “good number” of older unaccompanied alien children who came to the U.S. in recent years from Central America during an unprecedented border surge, according to a non-profit group that provides services to immigrants and refugees.
That finding was shared during a webinar hosted last month by the Migration Policy Institute to discuss how unaccompanied minors have fared since entering the U.S. Nearly 78,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, have been released here since Oct. 1, 2014.
Last summer saw a massive wave of border-crossings, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Federal law prohibits the alien minors from non-border countries from being immediately returned to their home countries. Instead, most are handed over to the care of family members and other sponsors while awaiting deportation hearings.
And while younger immigrants are faring “relatively” well, older teenagers who recently crossed the border alone are in more unstable situations, according to Annie Wilson, the chief strategy officer at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization which provides services to unaccompanied alien children and refugees.
Researchers who have followed up with minors after they were placed into the care of family members and sponsors noted that they have had more trouble tracking older youth, Wilson noted.
“But it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that for these older youth that the situation is much more unclear and in some cases more fragile,” Wilson said in the webinar, which was flagged by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports limited immigration.
Many older unaccompanied minors “are no longer with the original sponsor,” Wilson added. (RELATED: Sanctuary City Sheriff Loses Race In San Francisco)
“Many more of these are not necessarily heading to their parents but are going to more distant relationships. Many of these young people really are anxious to work or are pressured to work and so are not in school or completing their education.”
“And a lot of them are simply not willing to speak to somebody doing follow-up research or cannot be reached,” said Wilson.
She also stated that only around 35 percent of the minors attend legal orientation programs to bring them up to speed on their deportation cases.
That finding suggests that few of the immigrants “have been truly interested in seeking legal status and understand that they can get along fine without it,” says Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, who also pointed to statistics from immigration courts which show that 48 percent of unaccompanied children are skipping out on their hearings.
In a blog post detailing the webinar, Vaughan noted cases in which older unaccompanied minors from Central America have joined gangs or have engaged in other criminal activity.
In September, three immigrant children who skipped their immigration court hearings the month before were arrested for the murder of a 17-year-old boy in Virginia. (RELATED: Trump Reveals How He Would Get Mexico To Pay For The Wall)
As was made clear in the Migration Policy Institute webinar, data showing the outcomes of the minors’ cases is sparse as the federal government has largely failed to keep track of the youths’ movements once entering the system.
Sarah Pierce, a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute, said that it’s “a difficult thing to know” what happens to the immigrants once they enter immigration court system. But she did say that it is clear that the number of children removed from the U.S. has “consistently been much lower than the amount of removal orders that are occurring.
She said that in fiscal year 2014, 13,000 minors were ordered removed but only 1,800 were actually deported.