It was June 2014 when the Washington Post reported that illegal immigrants, “including thousands of women and children, stream into south Texas. It was nine months late when the same paper reported that Obama’s border agents were tossing some of those kids into internment camps as an experiment.
It was called the Juvenile Referral Process, and it worried human rights groups Mexican officials who feared that it put the kids at risk. The program was the creation of Robert Harris who at the time U.S. Customs and Border Protection commander of the Laredo sector. Harris believed holding certain young Mexicans, believed to be working for cartels in detention serves to get these kids out of the smuggling enterprise. Believed is the operative word, There were no judges, no charges– no trial–just belief.
His intelligence analysts estimated that 78 percent of the guides smuggling other migrants were Mexicans younger than 18 — teenagers often hired or conscripted by drug cartels that knew they would not be prosecuted if caught — and he wanted to attack this loophole.
“Why don’t we remove these juveniles from the smuggling cycle?” Harris, the outgoing commander of the Laredo sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, recalled thinking.
Now, as a result of that decision, young Mexicans are being held for months without charge in shelters across the United States, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge. Since the program began in May, 536 juveniles have been held — 248 of whom have been deported to Mexico after an average stay of 75 days, according to Border Patrol statistics. Mexican authorities say some of these repeat border-crossers have spent as much as six months in U.S. custody while they await an appearance before an immigration judge.
During their detention, they are questioned by U.S. authorities and then transferred to a network of facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, across 15 states.