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Uncovering the Truth Behind #WhereAreTheChildren

Amid the outrage over missing migrant children, some of the facts have gotten murky.
An undocumented immigrant from Peru holds her son at their home on June 6th, 2017, in Thornton, Colorado.

An undocumented immigrant from Peru holds her son at their home on June 6th, 2017, in Thornton, Colorado.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Twitter became the center for complete outrage with the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren. That outrage had its roots in two events that happened about a month ago: first, a report alerted the public that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had "lost track" of about 1,500 migrant children. Then, the Trump administration announced that it would enforce a policy that would separate migrant children from their parents at the border.

The "missing children" outrage coincided with National Missing Children's Day, which likely added to the issue's visibility. Celebrities, politicians, journalists, and many others expressed concerns with the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren. Perhaps one of the most salient and widespread tweets came from actor Jim Carrey, who described Donald Trump's time as president as "From Shining City to Evil Empire in under 500 days."

In the midst of public outcry, however, some lost sight of the facts. Here, we'll break down what's fact and what's fiction in the story of the missing migrant children.


Who are the 1,500 missing children?

Pacific Standard reported on this issue when the report was first released. It's true: HHS "lost track" of about 1,500 migrant children that it had placed with sponsors or guardians across the United States. But some of those lost were placed with relatives who were undocumented immigrants themselves. It's difficult to imagine someone in that position voluntarily answering calls from the very government posed to deport them.

It's also possible, however, that some of the "lost" children may have fallen into the hands of unfit guardians or even human traffickers. There's no way to know for sure until officials with HHS actually track down these children.

How were these children separated from their parents?

To put it simply, they weren't. The 1,500 "missing children"—those involved with HHS—arrived at the border unaccompanied. Many of them were fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries. Although the Trump administration is now separating children from their parents at the border, that issue is, in fact, separate from the now-infamous missing 1,500.

What happens to the children separated at the border?

Children who arrive with their parents attempting to enter the country illegally are separated from their parents and placed in immigration detention centers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained this strategy as part of a new way to attempt to deter families from migrating to the U.S. The policy has "worked," in a way: 658 children were separated from their families in the first 13 days of the program alone.

And there's more to be concerned about when it comes to migrant children. Last week, Pacific Standard analyzed a report from the American Civil Liberties Union that outlines over 30,000 pages of documented abuse that migrant children experienced at the hands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

So, are children missing or in detention?

In short, both. Some children are being held in detention centers, some are wardens of the state because HHS actually knows their whereabouts, and some may have run away or been kidnapped and, in that case, really are missing.