Unaccompanied children cross the border, create a humanitarian crisis

In the face of unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children flooding over the U.S. southern border, President Obama has declared a humanitarian crisis.

Border Patrol officials and the Department of Health and Human Services are scrambling to house and process the minors, many of whom have traveled from Central America to escape poverty and violence. Over the past eight months, according to Customs and Border Protection, officials have apprehended 47,000 undocumented unaccompanied minors; over the past three years, officials have witnessed a twelve-fold jump in the number of such children entering the U.S.
The most recent influx may be related to the Obama administration’s renewal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last week. While children entering on their own aren’t eligible for DACA, many fear the message was garbled in its transmission to Central America.
In light of the spike in numbers, a new detention center was recently opened in Nogales, Arizona and another processing center opened at Fort Sill, in Oklahoma. The Obama administration is also asking Congress for $2 billion to help expedite the processing as well as to provide adequate and humane food and shelter for the children.

Immigrant processing centers at maximum capacity
Many of the young illegal immigrants are sleeping on concrete floors and sharing small bathroom facilities with hundreds of other children.
Facilities in Texas have already surpassed capacity, in many cases, and officials are transporting children to Arizona. However, the Nogales facility in that state has already reported that it does not have enough beds for the influx and has just four showers for the children. According to CBS, the center plans to build 60 more showers in the next few days.
Immigration officials are also struggling to feed children adequately: Though officials in Nogales have contracted with food vendors, CBS reported that some children got sick from the eggs used in burritos.
On the other hand, officials are trying to ensure that the unaccompanied minors are provided with at least a modicum of decent living. Children at the emergency shelters in Texas and California get three hot meals and two snacks a day as well as twice-weekly calls home and access to physical and mental health care.
Officials rush federal supplies to this Immigration Processing center to deal with minors in Nogales, Arizona.
Officials have had to rush to get supplies to immigrant processing centers holding these unaccompanied children in the U.S. In this photo a bus leaves the entrance of the U. S. Border Patrol facility on Saturday, June 7, 2014 in Nogales, Ariz. Arizona. In places such as this one, officials have put up makeshift facilities to accommodate the children. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
Slow Processing for Increasing Numbers
The back-up in processing the young immigrants stems from Homeland Security policies.
According to CNN, Central American immigrants—as opposed to Mexican immigrants—cannot be immediately deported, a policy that has to do with the home country’s proximity. That means that each child must go through processing to determine whether he or she should be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation or should go to the Department of Health and Human Services in order to be reunited with a family member in the U.S.
Further lengthening processing time, Honduran immigrants have been allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. since 1998, a result of ongoing violence in their country. The same is true for Salvadorians, granted temporary protected status in 2001 after an earthquake. Given that, it’s critical that immigration officials differentiate between those seeking asylum, those with a vetted family member in the country, and those without a valid reason for immigration.
Though law states that each unaccompanied minor must be processed within 72 hours, the sheer volume of children is preventing that from happening, in many cases.
Protecting children, protecting citizens
As increasingly disturbing reports come out of the holding facilities, lawmakers are digging in on either side of the debate.
On the one hand, it’s extremely difficult to turn away from children who are often striving to escape gang violence and grinding poverty; as stated by Attorney General Eric Holder, these are the “most vulnerable members of society.”
According to the Daily Mail, supporters of Obama’s immigration reform and DACA argue that “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings—many of whom are feeling violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking—goes to the core of who we are as a nation.” The U.S. likes to view itself as a champion of human rights, so many argue that we have a duty to help protect these children rather than deporting them back into what may be horrific situations. Others argue that the children are not to blame: many are simply doing what their parents told them to do. Is an eight- or ten-year-old responsible, in that case?
On the other hand, many people have suggested that the U.S. created this situation. Cecelia Menjivar, a sociologist at Arizona State University, was quoted in USA Today as saying that “Immigration laws have as much to do with the crisis as the conditions back home.” She argues that family members who are already here under temporary protected status may be encouraging their children to “take the dangerous journey north.”
Similarly, Republicans like Bob Goodlatte, the Virginian chair of the House Judiciary Committee, feel that this was an avoidable disaster. Speaking to Fox News, Goodlatte said that “Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally.”
Finally, Daily Mail reports that it’s costing taxpayers $252 per child, per day in order to house the unaccompanied minors who are still making their way across the border. According to federal officials, upwards of 80,000 young illegal immigrants are expected to enter the U.S. during 2014.
What’s the answer? Unfortunately, there’s no clear resolution. For the moment, the first priority of federal officials is to apprehend and humanely house the children, and that’s no small task. Immigration reform, if it comes, will be a long and hard fought battle. voxxi.com
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