The crush of extreme poverty and rampant crime in the Central American nations have forced many to seek out a better existence in the United States — even if that existence is in government custody.
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the Texas-Mexico border, where an increasing number of Central American children — many travelling without a parent or guardian — are found crossing the border to surrender to the first Border Patrol agent they see.
In what many Republicans and White House critics call a failure of the president’s policies on immigration, women and children are illegally crossing the border in growing numbers. Current deportation strategies have allowed for leniency from deportation proceedings for mothers with young children, which some argue have been the impetus for this new flood of immigration.
“State and local governments, law enforcement agencies, healthcare providers and non-profit organizations are all stretched to the breaking point attempting to manage the enormity of these challenges. By systematically transporting and releasing more illegal aliens into Arizona, your administration will exacerbate this problem,” wrote Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in a letter to President Obama on June 2, criticizing the alleged “dumping” of these illegal immigrants at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix.
“This unwarranted operation is another disturbing example of a deliberate failure to enforce border security policies and repair a broken immigration system,” she continued.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has found itself blindsided by this situation and without adequate space to house the new immigrants in Texas. Hundreds of these immigrants have been shipped to Arizona to be processed, which ultimately released many — dropping them off at bus stations so they could relocate in locations across the nation — as an established alternative to deportation. These individuals are mandated to report to immigration authorities within 15 days.
This situation has imposed a heavy burden on the U.S. government. By law, the federal government is responsible for the health and well-being of all children that immigrate into the country unaccompanied. As these children have a legitimate claim of asylum, they cannot be returned to their home countries. With Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s housing already filled with detained illegal immigrants, the agencies had nowhere to place the children. Further, because of the agencies’ tendencies to not share information or talk about current operations with the outside, many of the children have shown up in other states without warning to be placed in insufficient housing.
According to a report obtained by the Wall Street Journal from the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 8,300 people were arrested by Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley in the week from May 28 to June 4, with at least 8 percent having been apprehended before by Texas law enforcement. In the past eight months, 162,751 non-Mexican immigrants — more than the total apprehended in the previous fiscal year — have been caught illegally crossing the Mexican border, with three-fourths being caught in the Rio Grande Valley. Due to the valley’s close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, it is both the nearest point of entry into the U.S. from Central America and the least secure — for large segments of the valley, the only demarcation is a dry riverbed.
The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has nearly doubled to 47,104 over the past eight months, and federal authorities expect this number to double again by this year’s end. Many of these minors were sent north by their families via human smugglers to escape the growing violence in their homeland or are attempting to reconnect with family that are already in the U.S.
This influx has aggravated the backlog of pending immigration cases, which stood at more than 350,000 as of the end of fiscal year 2013.
The White House rebukes claims that this immigration surge is due to the president’s 2012 executive order, which created the leniency class for mothers and young children.
“As we’ve made clear … the deferred action would not apply to these unaccompanied minors,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “They are going through the immigration process to determine how to return them to their home countries or to otherwise handle their immigration status.”
The White House has announced that the issue will be addressed in the upcoming Homeland Security and State Department appropriation bills. The bills will not ask for increases to or reallocation for the already-written departmental allocations. Instead, sequestration limits for more than two dozen areas, such as funding for the National Institutes of Health, will be halted or reversed.
In the Senate, the Labor, Health and Human Services Committee unveiled a $1.94 billion bill that would give the Department of Health and Human Services — the department charged with the care of the migrant children — the means to fully deal with the surge. Cuts to mandatory programs and slashes to the Labor Department and to Health and Human Services programs are being used to pay the bill. However, shock from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent defeat in Virginia — widely interpreted as at least partly due to Cantor’s shifting position on immigration — makes it difficult to ascertain whether the House Republicans would support an immigration bill, even if it is — in reality — humanitarian aid.
However, many have argued that this is a stopgap measure for a situation that will only get worse. With many of these minors lacking adequate shelter, food, water or access to hygiene facilities while in federal care, and with humanitarian aid workers now intervening to offer care, this problem may not stop unless the U.S. fixes the problem at the source.
“If we keep playing defense on the 1-yard line — which is the U.S.-Mexico border — you can see what’s happening,” said Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar. “Bottom line is that we have got to take it to them and do something to work with Mexico on their Southern border and those countries in Central America.”