Fresco said Congress, working with the Trump administration, could seek to change the definition of an unaccompanied minor so it does not include those who have parents or extended family in the U.S.—even if the child traveled alone from his home country to get here.

Children who are not considered unaccompanied could face quick deportation, without a hearing before a judge.

“The U.S. should allow for the expedited return of unaccompanied children,” said David Inserra, a homeland security expert at The Heritage Foundation, arguing that the 2008 trafficking law “should be reformed so as to remove the burdensome process that applies to unaccompanied from noncontiguous countries.”

“This would allow the U.S. to enter into agreements with other countries to more rapidly return such children while maintaining key protections for the safety of trafficked children,” Inserra said.

The Trump administration has not stated if it will encourage change to the 2008 law.

On Jan. 25, five days after he was sworn in, Trump issued an executive action on border security requiring Homeland Security personnel to carry out “proper application” of the trafficking law.

Trump ordered immigration authorities to ensure that unaccompanied children “are properly processed, receive appropriate care and placement while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, and, when appropriate, are safely repatriated in accordance with law.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not return emailed questions from The Daily Signal seeking clarification on what “proper application” of the law means, and whether the agency would treat unaccompanied children differently than it did under the Obama administration.

‘We Have to Do Better’

Advocates for immigrants and refugees resist efforts to restrict immigration of Central American minors.

Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, says that many such children have legitimate claims for asylum or other protection, and are fleeing some of the most dangerous countries in the world.

“Changing the 2008 trafficking law would really cast the most vulnerable populations most in need of protection as economic migrants—which they aren’t,” Appleby told The Daily Signal in an interview. “It would basically eviscerate asylum protection for children.”

Michelle Brane, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, notes that the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, working with immigration agencies, conducts an assessment of unaccompanied children before releasing them into the community. The office has the discretion to keep the children in custody if they present a security or flight risk.

Before the 2014 surge of illegal immigration, Brane said, officials placed 60 percent of unaccompanied children into neighborhoods across the country as they waited for a court hearing. In the time since, though, that number has increased to about 90 percent because of limited detention space.

To ensure that unaccompanied children integrate smoothly as they await court hearings, Brane says, the government should do a better job of following up with cases. Officials should make sure the minor plans to show up in court, gets a lawyer, and is being a productive student and classmate.

She said the government provides follow-up oversight in only 5 percent of cases.

“We have to do better than that—for the well-being of the child and the community,” Brane told The Daily Signal in an interview.

Fresco, the former Department of Justice immigration attorney, is sober about the challenge facing policymakers.

“There is an inherent risk of letting anyone in,” Fresco said. “You have to trust that a kid is coming in good faith.”