U.S. Border Patrol Broke Its Own Rules in Deporting Thousands of Children

U.S. Customs and Border Protection repeatedly violated its own rules for screening undocumented children between 2009 and 2014, according to a government report released this week.

Under U.S. law, all children who come without papers have a right to argue before a judge that they would be in danger if returned to their home countries, but this law does not apply to children from Mexico or Canada, meaning that the responsibility for determining their safety upon return is on the shoulders of the Department of Homeland Security. The new audit finds the agency failed in 93 percent of cases to document whether the thousands of Mexican children under age 14 would be safe upon return before they deported them. They also did not determine in the majority of cases that the children had not been victims of human trafficking already or would not become victims of trafficking if sent home.

Last year, when tens of thousands of undocumented children crossed the U.S. border — most of them from Central American countries wracked by violence and poverty — the Obama Administration faced broad criticism for throwing most of them into detention facilities and expediting their deportations without giving them due process — such as the right to a lawyer.

Just this week, after widespread protests, the Obama Administration agreed to release hundreds of families being held in immigration detention, acknowledging that they pose no threat to public safety. However, thousands more remain incarcerated in facilities reported to have inedible food and freezing temperatures, and where bonds are set so high most immigrants are unable to afford their release. Adults who are released may have to wear GPS tracking devices while they go through the process to seek asylum.

International law and human rights experts have long argued that many, if not most, of the children would be eligible to be considered refugees or candidates for asylum if they could have their day in court.