Number of minors crossing the border climbs daily
By Kenneth Porter
The New York Times reports that 57,000 children, the majority of whom are age 12 to 17, have arrived in the United States via the Texas-Mexico border since October 2013.
Unlike illegal immigrants from Mexico, these individuals — usually from non-contiguous North American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — may enter the country and take refuge at U.S. military bases in Oklahoma, Texas and California, while awaiting hearings to determine whether they will be deported or permitted to stay in the States. The deportation system is experiencing severe backlog, as the southern military bases struggle to provide hearings for each of the thousands of immigrants.
Causes of the influx
Many of these children are trying to escape the chronic hunger, domestic abuse and gang violence that ravage Central America, making a return to their home countries difficult.
“Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S.,” according to a public statement from U.S. Customs Border Protection.
“Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”
Furthermore, past legislation from the Bush administration, such as 2008’s William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, has made deportation of these immigrants particularly difficult, further complicating the situation.
“Women and children are the most vulnerable in dangerous environments, and generally they are the ones that endure the greatest suffering,” Schoolcraft College American History Professor C.H. Behler said. “This has immense bearing on the issue of immigration reform and must be considered before any legislation is made.”
Presidents representing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador shared their concerns about U.S. policies with U.S. President Obama at the White House on July 25.
“We met today to discuss our ongoing collaboration regarding the increased numbers of unaccompanied minors and adults with children migrating to the United States,” the four presidents said a joint statement.
The statement goes on to reaffirm the four nations’ desire to counteract the efforts of the criminal organizations that profit from “exploiting this uniquely vulnerable population,” and promises that changes will be coming soon in the form of a “comprehensive plan to address the underlying causes of the humanitarian situation on the border.”
Plans could take months to come together and even longer to be fully implemented.
What’s Congress doing about this?
On July 8, Obama requested that Congress allocate $3.7 billion to strengthen the southern border and expedite deportation hearings, but Congress is struggling to agree on the monetary and political terms that any sort of emergency response might entail.
The Republican-controlled House was expected to vote on more conservative legislation that would allot $659 million to strengthening the border, but infighting forced this vote to be cancelled late Thursday, reported New York Times. House Republicans took part in a closed door meeting Friday, Aug. 1, in an attempt to agree on immigration legislation ahead of August’s five-week Congressional recess. Simultaneously, the Democratic Senate has been unable to bring legislation of its own to a vote.
The political ramifications of Congress’ decisions could be immense, and thousands of children hang in the balance.
“We need to hold our elected officials responsible for working out solutions,” Behler said. “Deciding how to humanely deal with this issue must be a high priority for U.S. lawmakers at both the national and state level.”
Obama is expected to announce a series of executive actions, in the coming months, aimed at providing relief for some of the children currently residing in the U.S., but it is up to Congress to agree on a lasting solution to this crisis.