The onslaught of children at the southern border of the United States has several sources.
It appears that a law passed in late 2008 to deal with human trafficking — especially the trafficking of children — has had an almost opposite effect.
The law, which allows a wide class of children greater protection once they reach the US border, has been mis-characterized by criminal parties (especially in Central America) in order to motivate families to pay for their children to be smuggled through Mexico to the US border.
Over roughly the last year a rapid increase in children presenting themselves at the border has overwhelmed the existing immigration hearing system producing a defacto ability for children to remain in the United States for an extended period pending hearing. This has reinforced the claims made by criminals. It is also a problem that too many US officials tended to minimize until this last Spring.
Families are also motivated by a dangerous and deteriorating situation — especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where a confluence of economic turmoil, organized gangs, corrupt officials and other profound dysfunctions encourage taking significant risks in order to escape. The President of Honduras suggests many of these problems have their origin in the US demand for drugs.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas recently released a report that highlights significant problems when children are repatriated. These problems have been exacerbated by the surge in numbers. Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek published a story last week on the range of challenges involved in repatriation.
On Sunday conservative commentator George Will told Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, “My view is that we have to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans’.”
To mitigate the current crisis Congress needs to act this week before it leaves for a long August break. Unless additional funding and policy changes are legislated the Secretary of Homeland Security warns, “… we’re going to run out of money to deal with this. I’ve got my CFO working overtime this week working out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act.”
Some suggested measures include:
Clarify the current legal situation with Central American families: This has been ongoing since at least March. Some progress seems to have been achieved. In June the number of children arriving at the border was reduced by about half compared to prior months. The US government has increased official communications. But unofficial information has potentially been even more influential.
Expedite the hearing process: Additional immigration judges, changes in law, and procedural adjustments could reduce the current log-jam and more quickly return children not found to qualify for some extended immigration status. This would presumably reduce the motivation to make the risky and costly trip to the US border.
Amend the 2008 law, especially to facilitate prompt-return: Mexican and Canadian nationals can be returned without the hearing process currently afforded other children. But many are resisting this given the dangers facing Central American and other children. Under current law there is a prima facie right to hearings and the ethical implications of eliminating this right strike many as unacceptable.
Enhance security at Mexico’s southern border: Reducing out-migration from Central America (more than a thousand-miles south of the US border) makes theoretical good sense. There are, however, problems with corruption and lack of capacity related to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. Still it is worth attention over the long-term. It is more and more in Mexico’s self-interest as a stronger Mexican economy and comparative security also attracts immigrants.
Enhance US border security: Considerable progress has been made over the last ten-to-twelve years. More on current House Republican proposals in this regard is available here. Also see related prior post at HLSWatch
Allow application for refugee status in the country-of-origin: The idea being this would discourage the risky journey while responsibly addressing those most seriously threatened.
Increase country-of-origin efforts to encourage staying at home. Both governmental and non-governmental programs exist to reduce severe want and fear. Many would benefit from additional support. Yesterday, George Will (see original reference above) argued, “Long term, the most effective legislation passed concerning immigration wasn’t an immigration bill at all. It was Bill Clinton’s greatest act, passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that put North Americans on the path to prosperity. We need to do something similar for the countries in which these children are fleeing.”
What other near-term mitigation efforts or longer-term solutions do you have?
Most informed observers doubt that the House and Senate will take practical legislative steps before they are scheduled leave Capitol Hill late this week. More on fast-breaking legislative prospects from:
UPDATE: Monday morning’s Diane Rehm Show, heard on many NPR stations, focused on efforts to address the “child migrant crisis”. Joining Ms. Rehm and receiving call-in questions and comments were:
Laura Meckler, staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
Carl Meacham, Americas program director at Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director, Hispanic trends, Pew Research Center
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director, U.S. immigration policy program, Migration Policy Institute
You can listen to the hour-long discussion at the following website by clicking on the “LISTEN” icon or word.