Flood of child migrants inundates US border

Children, Family/Kids, Immigration, News, Politics, Rights

Over the past several weeks, a surprising and abrupt increase in the number of unaccompanied migrant children has stunned border patrol agents and ignited a nationwide discussion over immigration policy.

As images of toddlers and school-age children – many sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder in makeshift shelters – consume our 24-hour news channels, pundits on both sides of the issue debate over how these homeless and parentless children should be handled, with concerns ranging from tightening budgets to the spread of foreign disease.

The following sheds light on some of the over-arching issues of this current immigration crisis:

Who are the children crossing the border?  

According to statistics, the vast majority of the unaccompanied minors flooding the borders are originating from Central American nations, not Mexico. The numbers reveal that, in 2013, approximately 35,000 children from Central American countries immigrated to the United States, compared with just 11,000 from Mexico.

Presently, the highest numbers of unaccompanied minors appearing at the border originate from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

For some perspective, the average number of children taken into the Office of Refugee Resettlement between 2008 and 2011 was around 7,000. In 2012, this number nearly doubled to 13,625.

What is the US doing in response to the influx?

The dramatic increase of unaccompanied minors has taken even the most experienced border towns by surprise. While some blame the federal government for not attempting to return these immigrants to their countries immediately, it is important to remember that federal laws prohibit the immediate return of any non-contiguous immigrants (i.e., those from Mexico or Canada) without certain due process considerations. Therefore, the children will remain in U.S. custody pending the outcome of their cases.

In the meantime, they wait. Currently, thousands of children are receiving the bare essentials at shelters spanning the southwest, including the provision of temporary housing at a Lackland AFB muster station.

In a concerted effort with FEMA, immigrants are being transported by bus from Texas to overspill shelters in Phoenix and California. Immigration authorities are reportedly able to offer the children little more than apples and water – prompting many non-profit organizations and charities to step in.

When will the children face deportation?

It depends. In response to the immediate crisis, President Obama has asked Congress for the authority to quickly deport these children, and for $2 billion to be allocated toward tougher border security and emergency assistance. However, coinciding asylum and amnesty laws may also apply to the situation, further complicating the issue.

Under our nation’s asylum rules, it may be possible for the children to remain in the United States upon a finding that the children would be exposed to “extreme violence” and other tragedies by returning to their homeland.

Children who do not meet this standard are often paired with distant relatives during the time period between being taken into custody and ultimately attending their first hearing – typically 35 days. From there, children and detainees are paraded before an immigration judge who will ultimately determine whether the child can stay in the U.S. or must be returned to his or her home country.

A United Nations study recently revealed that as many as 58 percent of children immigrating into the U.S. would qualify for asylum under the classification of a “crime victim.” Children who are able to remain in the U.S. would likely obtain a special immigrant juvenile visa. Children who do not qualify for asylum or any other sort of immigration relief are deported, returning either to their country of residence, country of birth, or to any other country willing to accept the child.

Where does the immigration journey begin?

For the unaccompanied Central American migrant, the immigration journey begins in the homeland – often in response to the widely-circulated rumor that children immigrating without their families are granted immediate and unfettered rights to remain in the U.S.

Banking on this false promise, children begin their journey from their often-violent hometowns, through unrelenting heat, danger and vulnerability in hopes of arriving at the promised land they’ve been told about. The children are instructed to seek out, not escape from, border patrol agents, as the U.S. must take unaccompanied children into custody.

For some children, however, the immigration journey begins at the hands of a human smuggler who capitalizes on the inexorable ambition of Central American families to leave the violence of their homeland behind.

Smugglers charge families up to $5,000 to get their children from places like Honduras to the U.S. border – assessing an extra fee for actually crossing. According to an anonymous and experienced child smuggler who spoke to NPR, “[a]n adult has to flee, but a child — you just deliver them to the other side of the river and they wait to give themselves up to the Border Patrol. It makes our job easier.”

Why are the children fleeing to the US?

Aside from promises of prosperity, peace and freedom, children from countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing from unspeakable violence, mostly perpetrated by gang members and their associates.

In many cases, young boys escape to avoid being forced into a gang. Likewise, young girls are often encouraged to flee their hometowns to avoid capture by sex traffickers – a rampant industry in those nations.

Overall, children are fleeing the widespread poverty effected by corrupt governments, economic crisis and excessive unemployment.