A couple weeks ago, a public forum was held in the Brunswick High School’s auditorium to ascertain the public’s opinion on a proposed plan to have Saint Paul’s College used as a housing facility for unaccompanied alien children — kids who have illegally immigrated to the U.S. without their parents. When Essey Workie, the Regional Administrator for the Administration for Children and Families, announced that the plan was put on hold, the crowd erupted in applause.
However, the issue is far from resolved and several questions still linger in the wake of the controversy. How long have unaccompanied children been entering the United States? What’s currently being done about the issue? Are there any long term solutions?
The surge of child migration began back in 2011, but has only just hit a crisis point this year. So far in fiscal year 2014, an approximate 70,500 kids are expected to be apprehended at the border, including 52,000 children from Central America. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children are up by a staggering 92% from this time in 2013.
When Mexican children are caught at the border, an agent will quickly interview them. If the child can persuade the Border Patrol agent that he or she is scared of being trafficked or prosecuted, the child is then put into custody. If he or she doesn’t pass, the child is immediately returned to Mexico. Central American children, though, are immediately put into custody and given full court proceedings. Since more Central American have been coming to the U.S. this year, the government has been forced to find much more housing.
At the end of last month, President Barack Obama asked Congress to modify the law that deals with migrant children. The proposal asks to treat kids coming from Central America the same children from Mexico are — to screen them to determine whether or not they could stay in the country.
Though the proposal is expected to help staunch the flow of migrant children, it would also send the kids back to their home countries that are persecuting them.
“We’re extremely concerned that the administration is continuing to refuse to see this as a refugee issue and that they are really taking drastic steps to roll back a long tradition of child welfare-friendly policies in this country,” said the Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program of the Women’s Refugee Commission, Michelle Brane.
If sent back, children face a myriad of dangers, including: violence (Honduras had the highest murder rate in the entire world in 2011), gang violence (El Salvador has one of the lowest school attendance rates in the world because gangs target the children there), and human and drug trafficking (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that organized criminal groups coerce children into prostitution and to work as drug mules, often using gang rape as a means of forcing compliance and because these children escape the threat of death in their home countries alone, they have no choice but to comply).
The proposals would also put more strain on Border Patrol. In truth, no branch of the federal government is really equipped to hand the influx of migrant children, but the brunt of the overload falls on the Border Patrol since they’re the first ones to come in contact with them. By having to screen 52,000 more children, Border Patrol agents would naturally have more work to do, making them incapable of being able to catch the criminals sneaking into the country, which is their intended role.
“I don’t think the flow will stop until a message of deterrence is sent back to Central America,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul. “I know the president came out with a strong statement today. I applaud that. But I think, you know, we have to be humanitarian at the same time, let them know that if they do come, they cannot stay here; otherwise, we’ll never stop the flow.”
Though the surge of unaccompanied alien children is a much more pressing issue than previously thought, what else can be done about the crisis besides providing them with a place to stay until a solution is figured out?