Immigrant Families Must Pay Steep Fees to Get Child Migrants Out of Detention

Freedom isn’t free. Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images

The federal government is separating thousands of migrant children from their parents, flying the kids to detention centers dispersed throughout the country, and then refusing to release children who have relatives in the U.S. — unless their extended families pony up hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in transport fees.

As the New York Times reports:

Marlon Parada, a construction worker in Los Angeles, already was worried when he got an urgent call from his cousin in Honduras, asking if he would agree to take in the cousin’s 14-year-old daughter. She’d been taken from her mother while attempting to cross the border and detained in Houston, he said. She couldn’t be released unless a family member agreed to take her in.

Mr. Parada, an immigrant himself who is supporting his wife and three daughters on $3,000 a month, wondered how he could afford to take on another responsibility. Then he learned that he would have to pay $1,800 to fly Anyi and an escort from Houston to Los Angeles.

“It caught me by surprise when they demanded all that money. I asked them to just put her on a bus, but they wouldn’t,” said Mr. Parada, who scrambled to amass the cash from friends and wired it to the operator of the migrant shelter where Anyi was being held.

Like so many other aspects of the Trump administration’s migrant policy, these extortionary transfer fees accomplish little beyond inflicting cruelty on immigrants, and enriching government contractors (in this case, airlines). Keeping a child migrant in a federal facility costs more than $600 a day; the government would likely save money if it waived transport fees, and expedited the release of all child migrants who have sponsors in the U.S.

This is what the Obama administration did in 2016, as a surge in family migration began to overwhelm federal detention facilities. But the Trump White House has opted to restore the needlessly punitive pre-2016 protocol.

And the Trump administration isn’t just asking many sponsor families to liquidate their savings — they’re also asking some to risk deportation themselves: Under a new rule, all adults in any household that volunteers to harbor a migrant child must submit fingerprints to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This could prevent many potential sponsor families from coming forward to take in their young relatives — especially since the Trump administration revoked temporary protected status from the hundreds of thousands of legal Central American immigrants in the U.S. earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the White House is asking migrant parents who would like to be reunited with their children to pay an even higher ransom: If adult migrants agree to forfeit their right to seek asylum in the U.S. — along with their children’s right to do the same — then the government will reunite them at a “reunification and removal” facility in Port Isabel, Texas. If they persist in seeking refuge from violence in their home countries, however, the government will keep them from seeing their children until their asylum case is adjudicated — a process that can take months, or even years.

Families Must Pay Steep Fees to Free Child Migrants