Biometrics Essential to Protecting Unaccompanied Minors Illegally Crossing US Southern Border
This is a guest post by Janice Kephart, founder of the Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA).
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has referred over 50,000 children to the Department of Health and Human Services in the past ten months, tasked with caring for the surge of unaccompanied minor children in the past ten months. Over 85 percent of these children – so far over 43,000 – have already been released from federal custody, with 96 percent of these children released to those claiming to be relatives residing in the U.S. No one in the public domain seems to know who the individuals really are that are obtaining custody of these children, nor their legal or criminal status. Nor do these individuals appear to be required to be biometrically enrolled or verified prior to taking custody of these children. The same questions, to a lesser extent, exist for the small percent of these children and teens given humanitarian aid are also known gang members, some of whom have admitted to the Border Patrol that they have participated in killing and torture.
At the same time the federal government is processing these children with individuals residing in the U.S., they are also releasing them into state programs responsible for the health, education and overall care of these children. Thus, it is not the federal government that will bear the brunt of meeting the needs of the children caught in this surge of illegal activity. The states will. Any attending costs, either in program requirements or public safety will be born by the states. So will figuring out who these children really are, what their needs are, and the responsibility of the states to support not just the children, but the families taking custody of them too.
States are complaining, including letters to the President from at least 32 Governors. One of these letters to the President was penned by the Republican governors of Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin relates their concern that a failure to return the children “will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border,” endangering more children on that treacherous journey. Moreover, the governors expressed concern “that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states.” They also complained of the administration’s admission that HHS “that the federal government is not inquiring whether these undocumented children are being placed with sponsors or relatives who are undocumented themselves.” Of course, that makes sense, as HHS has no authority to carry out or make immigration determinations.
Biometrics will not solve the problems of state budgets, but they could help assure public safety, national security and the well-being of both the unaccompanied minors and the families housing them. One of the most disturbing questions plaguing the concern over the long term effect of this current crisis is that the U.S. cannot verify the identity of the children crossing the border, nor the identity of the individuals seeking their custody.
Here are some core questions that need to be answered:
(1) Are unaccompanied minors being biometrically enrolled during HHS processing? The children who have made the journey from Central America through Mexican territories must do so through areas where drug cartels such as the Zetas control the journey. These children face potential murder, kidnapping, rape, sexual slavery, and forced labor. It is estimated that more than half the girls traveling experience sexual violence, many under the age of 13. Even if they begin their journey with some form of identification – which is unlikely – the traffickers will likely strip them of any IDs that could identify their name, origin or associate these children with traffickers. (The same is done to adults as well.) It is thus essential to protect these children as soon as possible by giving them the opportunity to create a biometric identifier with their stated given name, country of origin and date of birth during initial processing, in order to create an identity that can not be stolen or forced to be disassociated from that minor by sex traffickers or other criminals in the future. Biometric enrollment is a first step in protecting these children and creating the opportunity for reuniting them with their families.
(2) Is HHS assuring, with a biometric collection or verification of guardians who are attaining custody of these minors, that these individuals do not have a criminal background or national security violations? How does HHS verify that an individual seeking custody of the minor children does not have a background of criminal, sexual or physical exploitation of children, if biometrics are not collected and checked?
(3) How is HHS checking, without a biometric test, that guardians claiming to be related to a child are, in fact, related to the unaccompanied minor child to which they seek custody?
(4) If the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service were conducting the processing, the likelihood would be much higher that biometrics would be incorporated as many immigration benefits require biometric processing, as do refugees overseas. If biometric processing is not taking place, why not enable USCIS to work alongside HHS, who are specialists in asylum and juvenile issues, and biometric intake?
On July 28, 2014, Kephart participated in 16 FOX News affiliate radio interviews on Texas Governor Rick Perry’s unilateral decision to send 1,000 Texas National Guard to help alleviate the pressure of the unaccompanied minors crisis. One of those 10 minute interviews is here.
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