Kids as young as 7 are being sent across the border alone by their parents

Last week NBC reported that this was a growing trend: “immigration lawyers tell NBC News that some migrant families are choosing to send their children to the southern border alone because they see it as the best chance for remaining in the U.S.” Today the Associated Press published a story which confirms it. The 7-year-old girl is not named because of her age. Her father accompanied her all the way to the border and tried to cross with her, but when that failed he told her to go on alone.

Her father, she told an Associated Press journalist, had traveled with her by bus for 22 days across Mexico. Then, he went back to their homeland — but not before he placed her in the hands of a young man who was to help her cross the river into Texas.

“He just said to go on my own and take care of myself,” she said…

…the girl’s father had recently tried to cross with her, but they were both quickly expelled back to Reynosa, Mexico, under pandemic-related powers the Trump administration invoked. Biden has kept the powers — known as Title 42 for the section of an obscure public health law — in place.

The girl did cross the border with two older migrants and was picked up by the border patrol. Her story is no longer that unusual:

On Sunday, a Salvadoran man approached a journalist to ask whether his 13-year-old daughter would qualify to stay if she crossed on her own.

“The parents are saying ‘We are not going to make it. We have to be very realistic here, but if I send my child up to the bridge, and they cross alone, they’ll have to take them in,’” said Jennifer Harbury, a Texas-based human rights advocate.

Also today, NBC News published a similar story interviewing a number of kids who have come to the border hoping to be reunited with parents, including some they’ve never met:

Justin, 10, has been in the U.S. for half an hour. He is sitting in a parking lot with 10 other unaccompanied minors. The Border Patrol separated them from a group of about 75 migrants who entered at night through Roma, Texas.

Justin says he made the trip alone, without relatives, but traveled with three men he met during the journey. They traveled mainly by car and, at one point, by plane, between the Mexican cities of Puebla and Monterrey…

In his pocket, Justin carries a slip of paper with the phone number of his father, who lives on the East Coast. He also knows it by heart and can recite it without thinking.

“How long have you not seen your daddy?”

“I don’t know him.”

There’s a similar story about a 17-year-old named Joel whose father left for America when he was 4 years old. He can’t remember his father but he’s hoping to be reunited with him again soon. Is his father a legal migrant? I’m guessing the answer is no but the story doesn’t say.

On an individual level it’s easy to be sympathetic to these kids, but it doesn’t change the fact that policy has to be set looking not just at individual stories but at group behavior. President-elect Biden said back in December that he was going to take it slow on changes to border policy to prevent having “2 million people on our border.” That was a good idea but as the Post reported over the weekend, it’s not working out very well:

Now, the Biden administration is scrambling to control the biggest surge in 20 years, with the nation on pace for as many as 2 million migrants at the southern border this year — the outcome Biden said he wanted to avoid.

You can’t have it both ways. If you welcome children and families who are primarily economic migrants to the U.S. then you are also sending a signal to many thousands more children and families who are primarily economic migrants that now is the time. Both the practicalities and the politics of that decision are starting to get away from the Biden administration.