The least productive Congress ever was perfectly content to allow immigration reform to languish until next year, while they focused on getting their sorry asses re-elected. But then reality hit.
Mass migration of unaccompanied children from Central America brought the issue front and center. A little-known. bipartisan bill passed in the waning hours of the Bush Administration to protect children from sex trafficking is standing in the way of speedy deportation of 1000s of children, according to the New York Times.
While they languish in detention centers in Texas, Arizona, and California, more women and children cross the border — fleeing violence in their homeland and looking for family in the US.
Many powerful forces are at work to determine their fate…
Powerful Political Forces at Work
President Obama and Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson are working on getting emergency funding to process the children through the already strained and horribly cumbersome immigration system. Before 50,000+ immigrant children arrived, the immigration system was already backlogged and understaffed with 367,000 pending cases and only 243 immigration judges.
Republican leaders– including Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain and Rep. Matt Salmon— want to amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which would enable speedy deportation of children from non-contiguous countries.
On the other side of the aisle, the Congressional Progressive Caucus passed a resolution to protect asylum laws— like the 2008 bill the GOP wants to change. From the Huffington Post…
“To see politicians oversimplifying this desperate plea for help as an immigration enforcement issue is concerning, and to see their willingness to weaken the protections of the [2008 law on unaccompanied minors] is even more so,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “We must place the well being of these kids first. We should allow the protections in our existing laws to play their intended role.”
Aligned with the Progressive Caucus, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) earlier this week called for provision of legal representation for the refugee children, which was recommended by the 2008 law. From the New York Times [link includes video]…
“Instead, it [the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008] required that they [migrant children] be given an opportunity to appear at an immigration hearing and consult with an advocate, and it recommended that they have access to counsel. It also required that they be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the agency was directed to place the minor “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and to explore reuniting those children with family members.”
The United Nations Steps In
On the international level, United Nations officials are urging classification of many Central American migrants as “refugees displaced by armed conflict”. This designation would put pressure on the US to process the children differently and could result in many more of them staying in the US, rather than being sent home to violence and an uncertain future. The UN also called for a regional meeting of migration and interior department representatives from the US, Mexico, and Central America to be held on July 10 in Nicaragua. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss updating 30-year-old declaration regarding refugees.
From Fox News Latino:
“Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see a regional agreement on that status Thursday…
“While such a resolution would lack any legal weight in the United States, the agency said it believes “the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn’t be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection.”
“Most of the people widely considered to be refugees by the international community are fleeing more traditional political or ethnic conflicts like those in Syria or the Sudan. Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.
“‘They are leaving for some reason. Let’s not send them back in a mechanical way, but rather evaluate the reasons they left their country,’ Fernando Protti, regional representative for the U.N. refugee agency told the Associated Press.”
The UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) released a report entitled Children on the Run in March 2014. (Report here.) It states unequivocally that the Central American children are refugees seeking asylum from violence. From the UNHCR…
“The UN refugee agency, in a report released on Wednesday, said it was concerned at the increasing numbers of children in the Americas forced from their homes and families, propelled by violence, insecurity and abuse in their communities and at home.
“Children on the Run, which was launched in Washington, DC, also calls on governments to take action to keep children safe from human rights abuses, violence and crime, and to ensure their access to asylum and other forms of international protection.
“With violence and insecurity permeating the Americas region, we found a strong link between this unabated situation, new displacement patterns and the children’s reasons for leaving their homes and families to flee northward. They escaped armed actors, generalized and targeted violence in their communities and abuse in their homes,” said Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR regional representative in the United States.
The report analyzes the humanitarian impact this insecurity has had on children, forcing them across international borders to seek safety on their own. Based on a 2013 study funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, “Children on the Run” unveils the humanitarian impact of the situation through interviews with more than 400 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico held in US federal custody.
“It shows that the large majority of these children believed they would remain unsafe in their home countries and, as a result, should generally be screened for international protection needs by authorities along the way.
“A 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras told the UNHCR interviewers, “My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.'”
“A 14-year-old girl from El Salvador cited in the report, stated: “There are problems in my country. The biggest problem is the gangs. They go into the school and take girls out and kill them . . . I used to see reports on the TV every day about girls being buried in their uniforms with their backpacks and notebooks. I had to go very far to go to school, and I had to walk by myself. There was nowhere else I could go where it would be safer. I lived in a village, and it was even worse in cities.”
“The number of children making the perilous journey alone and unaccompanied has doubled each year since 2010. The US government estimated, and is on track to reach, 60,000 children reaching United States territory this year in search of safe haven.” [Emphasis added.]
A few of the ugly American protesters in Murrietta, California said that the US can’t possibly afford to take care of 1000s of migrant children and Moms and noted that the US can’t take care of its own children. Wall Street is at or near an all-time high. CEO pay and corporate profits have skyrocketed since the crash. The US has plenty of money. It’s just in the wrong hands. Tax the rich, and we can take care of all of the children– ours and the migrants.