For the past few years, thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America and Mexico have been crossing the United States’ border at an increasing rate and taking any means to cross it (hitching rides on trains, swimming cross the Rio Grande, walking through deserts for days). Though, sadly, these “typical” statements do not fully demonstrate the true urgency of this issue, but what is extremely alarming about these specific immigrants are that they are mostly under 18. More alarming are the numbers. Currently 80-120 children have been crossing everyday for the past four years. In 2012, 24,481 unaccompanied children have been reported, which is more than three times compared to 2008.
As the rate increases, so does the worry from the government on how to deal with this humanitarian crisis.
Why are they crossing the border?
Though reasons why immigrants would want to enter Unites States are obvious (freedom, employment, and safety), it does not fully explain this alarming and sudden rate. After questioning children from several Patrol Stations, the same “well-planned” responses are surfacing as we hear these children’s stories.
1. Gang Violence
These children are mostly streaming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Based on reports of these specific areas, especially Honduras, there has been an sudden increase violent activities. This past year murders of lawyers, human rights defenders, and advocates have been sprouting continuously. This violent crisis left 108 House Representatives to issue a letter to John Kerry, Secretary of State, to bring awareness to this area. In the 2013 humans right report, the State Department stated that Honduras was filled with “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system leading to widespread impunity.” Children are constantly threatened to join these gangs or face severe threats. A report from Casa Alianza, an organization that works with street children, claims that an estimate of 270 children throughout Honduras had been killed in three months. These events reflected in the children’s stories. A recurring theme after questioning these children is the fear of being killed by the gangs:
“We can’t even get them to answer their name before they tell us the gangs were the reason they fled their country” stated by an Border Patrol Agent.
2. Disillusion promises
From certain viewpoints, people are blaming this crisis on Obama’s policies that seem to spread false hope for immigrants who cross the border. In 2008, Obama issued a policy that would defer deportations for certain youths residing in the United States, concidently when this policy became enacted in 2012 the stream of immigrants began. Though, even with this coincidence, this factor is not strong.
It is also largely evident from the children’s responses that “promises” from their home country play a major role. Patrols are hearing “that many of the children were smuggled across the border after hearing radio ads promising they would not be deported” and even “hear[ing] that religious organizations are spreading the same message.” Some children even claim that they hear United States was giving out “permiso,” in other words, work permit for children who are able to cross in a certain amount of time. In reality, the term “permiso” refers to a Notice to Appear in immigration court for deportation proceedings, not a permit to stay in the country as the children believe it to be.
Though these two reasons are part of the cause, not just one factor can explain why these children are sprouting out of air. The reasons behind this humanitarian crisis is complicated and blurry. What we need to know right now is how to deal with these children efficiently.
What is United States doing about it?
Not to much surprise, the government is divided into different opinions. One side, supported by President Obama, is asking for additional funding and a response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, another side, is devoted to investigating the cause of this rise, and another extreme side is using this to blame the Obama’s administration. Some ideas, such as using military troops to stop these children at the Mexican border are heightening, but this would obviously cause tensions with Mexico. It is still very unclear what the government is actually planning to do to deal with this crisis.
With the constant rate of children coming in, patrol stations are packed. The government is slowly opening up military bases throughout the region to shelter them as well as gain time to deal with this issue. Though a constant supply of food and shelter is provided for the children, the fear of diseases outbreaking and violence is becoming apparent. Recently an outbreak of rabies had been reported. Furthermore, few days ago on Twitter, the National Border Patrol Council, the union for US Border Patrol agents, tweeted a status referring to this immigrant issue as “babysitting”, “diaper changing”, and “burrito wrapping.” Though legally it is true that Border Patrol only has custody of these children for 72 hours, with the increasing number of children streaming in, there is just no more time and room for federal agencies, who tend to deal with these issues, to provide housing and to evaluate these cases.
What do you think is the right solution to this problem?
[Image Attribute: Public Affairs]