No, the Vast Majority of Kids Taken From Parents at the Border Aren't Victims of 'Smugglers'


Folks, we’ve got a big one for you here: Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of Homeland Security and woman who cuts you in line at a suburban Panera Bread while somehow still blaming you, told yet another whopper yesterday during her shameful press briefing. Can you believe it!!

During the press briefing, Nielsen’s defense of the administration’s family separation policy hinged on the supposedly huge increase in instances of smugglers arriving at the border with children and pretending to be families. She said, according to a transcript published by The New York Times:

We also separate a parent and child if the adult is suspected of human trafficking. There are cases where minors have been used and trafficked by unrelated adults in an effort to avoid detention. And I’d stop here to say in the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border fraudulently, claiming to be a family unit. This is obviously of concern.

But, hold onto your butts here, this is far from the whole picture. Philip Bump at the Washington Post obtained the numbers behind that stunning figure from DHS. Given a fuller look at the data, the numbers show that while instances of smugglers at the border have indeed increased by more than 300% (there were 46 cases of “individuals using minors to pose as fake family units” in fiscal year 2017 and 191 cases of fraud in the first five months of 2018, an increase of 315%) the actual raw number is so low that “smugglers” only represented 0.6% of all cases of families apprehended at the border. Per the Post (emphasis added):

Even given the increased number of alleged smugglers this fiscal year and the decreased number of family units, those smugglers, those traffickers, those MS-13 members, make up only 0.61 percent of the total number of family units apprehended at the border. In other words, for every 1,000 families that approached the border in the first five months of this fiscal year, only six allegedly involved individuals pretending to be a child’s parents. The percentage of alleged smugglers in fiscal 2017 was smaller, at 0.1 percent.

The idea that human trafficking is so common that it’s necessitated a policy that has so far resulted in at least 2,000 children being taken away from their parents is one of the Trump administration’s main defenses of the policy. In the briefing, Nielsen mentioned smuggling at least nine times:

First, this administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border. We have a statutory responsibility that we take seriously to protect alien children from human smuggling, trafficking and other criminal actions while enforcing our immigration laws.

As Bump noted in another piece, MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes obtained documents showing “91% of parents who were referred for prosecution after having kids forcibly taken were only being charged with a misdemeanor —first time illegal entry,” not smuggling or human trafficking.

We’ve known the administration is lying about absolutely every aspect of this shameful policy, including saying it isn’t a “policy” at all (it! fucking! is!). But this is one of the most grotesque elements of their defense—arguing they’re actually helping kids by taking them away from the supposed smugglers that are carrying them, when in reality, almost every family unit that’s apprehended at the border is genuine: 994 in 1000 are real families, according to DHS’ own data. Is that a good enough reason to institute a policy that results in these horrifying wails of agony? Or it is reason enough for the traumatic abuse of literally thousands of kids, and thousands more yet to come?

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