New data from immigration courts, as well as individual testimony, indicates that many of the thousands of children undertaking a perilous journey across the U.S. border from Central America will get to stay, despite warnings to the contrary.
The Wall Street Journal reports that data, as well as interviews with the children and their advocates, show that very few children are sent home, with many being allowed to stay in the U.S. for years, if not permanently.
According to Justice Department figures seen by The Wall Street Journal, in fiscal year 2013, immigration judges ordered 3,525 children to be deported, with an additional 888 allowed to return home voluntarily. These numbers pale in comparison with the number of juveniles apprehended, amounting to between 23,000 and 47,000 children apprehended annually in each of the last five years.
The reasons for the children staying included backlogged courts, winning the right to stay, and minors simply ignoring orders to appear in court.
In recent months, the U.S. has been overwhelmed with finding shelter for children entering the country illegally, with President Obama repeatedly stating that they won’t be allowed to stay.
However, Doris Meissner, director of the Immigration Policy Program at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute says the reality is very different.
"They're here, and they're staying, and whatever else might happen to them is at least a year or more away," Meissner told The Wall Street Journal. "Until people's experience changes, more are going to continue to come, because they're achieving what they need: safety and reunification with their families."
Last fiscal year, approximately two-thirds of 6,437 cases resulted in either a deportation order or allowing the minor to return home voluntarily. Separate data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that only 1,600 actually returned to their home countries, suggesting that many are evading deportation orders.
The head of the immigration court system told a Senate hearing this week that 46 percent of juveniles failed to appear at their hearings between the start of the 2014 fiscal year last Oct. 1 and the end of June.
The problem seems likely to only get worse, due to ever-growing backlogs. As of June 30, there were 41,832 pending juvenile cases, up from about 30,000 nine months earlier. In some jurisdictions, it is common for court dates to be set two or three years out.