Last year, British ministers approved the Dubs Amendment, which called for the United Kingdom to resettle refugees living in camps around Europe who claimed to be 17 or younger. The amendment is named for the man who drafted it: Lord Alf Dubs, who is likely alive by the good grace of the Kindertransport, which saved scores of Jewish children from the Nazis.
There are about 90,000 such youths estimated to have made the perilous journey from Syria and other countries to European refugee camps.
An early version of the amendment designated 3,000 annual resettlement spots for unaccompanied minors. But the final language altered the amendment to read a “specified” number of minors, which is almost comical in the sense that the change effected a lack of specificity.
Now the government is capping the Dubs amendment resettlement at 350 for the year, and ceasing the process in March. About 200 unaccompanied minors have already been resettled, so just 150 more slots remain to be filled.
“Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees,” Lord Dubs told the BBC this week. “At a time when Donald Trump is banning refugees from America, it would be shameful if the U.K. followed suit by closing down this route to sanctuary for unaccompanied children just months after it was opened.”
If this dilemma sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. dealt with the same issue from a different angle.
The Unaccompanied Alien Children program in America began under President George W. Bush. Under the program, children who arrive in America without a guardian are placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which then attempts to connect them with family members living in America. When that is not possible, foster and group homes are relied upon.
As in the case of the Dubs Amendment, there was never a number specified for the amount of children who would be allowed to come in under UAC. And for about a decade, the number was politically unnoticed; several thousand children at the most.
But in 2013, as violence and lawlessness worsened in several Central American states – Honduras and Guatemala in particular – the number of children arriving alone at the border skyrocketed. Instead of several thousand, the annual influx of unaccompanied minors was over 50,000.
Even the most ardent supporter of the UAC program would likely concede that the program was not meant to handle that many children. The infrastructure crumbled under the numbers; children were warehoused on military bases while cases were processed, labor and sex traffickers thrived on the pipeline of vulnerable youths trekking through Mexico to the border. HHS was forced to contract with congregate care providers that made some of the veteran UAC providers squeamish.
Problems with UAC were discussed in a heated Congressional hearing last February, right before campaign season got into full swing. There has been no action announced thus far by the Trump Administration in regard to UAC, but it’s safe to say that the fluid nature of that arrangement does not comport with the administration’s view on immigration.
Both the U.K. and U.S. programs demonstrate the problems that arise when you proceed with such policies without some sort of quota or numerical target in mind.