Yes, the United States government did lose track of about 1,500 immigrant children. Jonathan S. Tobin of the National Review refers to the story as “The Anti-Trump Media’s ‘Missing Kids’ Myth.” He writes, “these children were not separated from their parents but rather had arrived illegally at the border on their own, seeking asylum. Most said they had fled their homes… to escape drug-cartel and gang violence. They were then placed in the homes of adults who had agreed to sponsor them, often relatives.” Some of these sponsors didn’t answer when the Department of Health and Human Services called them, hence the figure of 1,475 “missing” individuals.
All of this checks out with the reporting of the major news outlets, though Tobin does have a point about certain misinformation that has spread within the liberal community. The children in question were not forcibly taken from their families, as many people seem to think they were, nor was the infamous agency of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (commonly called “ICE”) involved. As Tobin said, unaccompanied minors entering the United States are placed with “sponsors” while they undergo immigration hearings, and these sponsors are often relatives. None of them are kept in cages.
Branding the entire matter as “mythical” or “overblown” because of a few inaccurate rumours, however, is irresponsible in its own right; it constitutes the logical fallacy of cherry-picking. Supporters of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy seize control of the narrative by moulding a few erroneous tweets into a straw-man and crying “fake news” instead of engaging seriously with the issue. And the ultra-conservative National Review is not the only culprit. A story by CNN contributor AJ Willingham titled Here’s what’s really happening with the 1,500 ‘missing’ immigrant children includes the sub-heading “No, they are most likely not ‘missing.’” Of course, they are missing by any relevant definition, but both Tobin and Willingham point out that the sponsors acting as de facto guardians “might have their own troubles with the law” and “probably do not want to be reached by federal authorities.”
“You can imagine that many of those would not choose to speak to a federal official calling them on the phone,” says a source in the Willingham story, “but there’s no reason to believe that anything has happened to the kids.” This line of thinking is nothing short of despicable. Of course, it’s not technically wrong to say that “there’s no reason to believe that anything has happened” to a missing person. There’s also no reason to believe that something hasn’t happened to them. They’re missing – that’s sort of the point. If a white suburban teenager was unaccounted for and his parents weren’t answering phone calls, would the U.S. government give up and say that “there’s no reason to believe that anything has happened to him?” Would it matter at all if the kid’s parents “had their own troubles with the law?” If the answer to these questions is no, then Tobin and Willingham are guilty of considering some human beings to be less valuable than others, which is of course always a bad thing to think or to act on.
In 2014, migrant children from Guatemala were sent to Ohio and forced to work on an egg farm under slave-like conditions. I would rather send HHS on a thousand wild goose chases than risk that ever happening again on American soil. I would rather search for a thousand kids that don’t want to be found than not search for one kid that does. This issue is absolutely important; they aren’t ‘missing’ children, they’re missing children. The aforementioned discrediting of the story provides a valuable lesson. George Orwell wrote, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Human right violations are sometimes not as straightforward as children being separated from their families at a border. Indeed, they are often cloaked by a layer of distraction, complication, and legalese. One of the most valuable things a progressive can have is the capacity to retain a focus on humanity in the midst of deliberate obfuscation.
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