Expert discusses immigration as flights carry unaccompanied children into AVP

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — The recent buzz over government sponsored flights into Avoca has brought up a number of ethical and legal questions for NEPA.

Namely, where do children who have no lawful immigration status or no parent or guardian in U.S. ultimately wind up?

And although there are no easy answers Eyewitness News may have a better idea as to why we’re seeing more flights land in our backyard, and it’s not a recent phenomenon.

We spoke with Michelle Mittelstadt from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research center, to talk facts.

“The phenomenon of unaccompanied children coming to the United States is a phenomenon that goes back really only about a decade or so. It began in the 2007-2008 period,” explained Michelle Mittelstadt, Director of Communications, Migration Policy Institute.

In 2008, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), dictating how the government cares for unaccompanied children.

“The idea being that you want to keep children in a detention, in a custodial setting as little as possible and put them with a sponsor as quickly as feasible,” said Mittelstadt.

Mittelstadt says children from countries that do not border the United States are turned over from immigration authorities to the Office of Refugee Resettlement or “ORR.”

They stay there until the child can be released to a suitable sponsor, usually a parent or legal guardian already in the U.S. that has been vetted by the ORR, or until they turn 18.

The Trump Administration increased vetting for sponsors, while the Biden Administration reverted to earlier vetting procedures.

Consequently, more kids are now being released to sponsors at a faster rate.

“You had a record number of unaccompanied children who were intercepted at the border this fiscal year, 122,000 children,” said Mittelstadt.

Mittelstadt says this recent surge is straining the system and worsening economic and political conditions in Central America are a driving factor.

Central Americans already in the U.S. are sending for their children, with shelters at the border overwhelmed, more kids are being bussed or flown to be released to sponsors.

“The flights that you’ve seen in Pennsylvania are emblematic though, of more children being moved around the country,” said Mittelstadt.

Of the 122,000 unaccompanied children, only 2,100 were released to sponsors in PA.

Mittelstadt says Pennsylvania is more of a transit location to get children to New York.

She says once these children become adults, the majority of them will stay in the U.S. under a “twilight status” meaning they won’t be deported, but they can’t get a green card, adding to the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.

“I think Congress has demonstrated over the past 20 plus years its inability to deal with what is a very difficult question, how do you resolve the status of the unauthorized population and you’ve seen Congress try at this a number of times,” says Mittelstadt. “The whole immigration debate is highly polarized and there are very few efforts at compromise on both sides.”

Mittelstadt says the majority of these unaccompanied children come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Under TVPRA, children arriving from a border country like Mexico are typically returned to Mexico, unless they have a valid fear of persecution.

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