Immigration mixed message lost in translation

The Obama administration’s tough public message that young illegal border-crossers would be detained, then sent home, apparently was lost in translation. Or it was just a PR stunt to begin with.

Of the detainees — mostly unaccompanied teens, and Central American mothers and young children — who were housed at a temporary immigration center in Artesia that just closed, 69 percent have been released to appear later at immigration hearings and in some cases to pursue claims of political asylum.

At the inauguration of Homeland Security’s two detention centers in Texas, Secretary Jeh Johnson repeated the deportation pledge. Based on the Artesia center’s track record, the threat isn’t convincing.

It is clear much of the human smuggling of these immigrants is based on successful marketing by coyotes, who convince people to pay them on the theory that if they can get here they can stay.

Putting aside whether they should or should not be allowed to stay, and there are valid arguments, it would be refreshing to have the federal government actually do what it says it is going to do in this area.

In early 2014, the numbers of unaccompanied teens, mothers and young children crossing the border illegally in South Texas escalated. At one point, the government estimated U.S. border agents would apprehend as many as 60,000 children traveling alone in fiscal 2014, which ended in October.

They came fleeing gang violence and poverty, many believing a 2008 law aimed at stopping sex trafficking would prevent them from being deported until they could appear before an immigration judge. However, backlogged immigration courts mean that could take years. Meanwhile, the youths and families are free to stay with families or friends and go to school in the U.S. — a defacto protected although illegal status.

So far, many of these immigrants don’t show up for their hearings. In September, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official revealed that about 70 percent of immigrant families released into the U.S. never appeared at follow-up appointments.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone listening to the administration’s mixed immigration messages, where politics and reality seldom intersect.

— Albuquerque Journal