WASHINTON — Immigration debates in America are commonly dominated by discussions about the latest arrival of illegal immigrants from Mexico, and the ‘coyotes’ who helped them cross the border.
However, this talk of Mexican immigrants was recently superseded by the topic of child immigrants from Central America.
The vast majority of them arrive without parents.
The surge of child immigrants from Central America originally began in 2011, but recently more children have been arriving to the country.
Alan Greenblatt of NPR reports that the more than 52,000 child immigrants that have arrived in America since last October is almost double the previous year’s total and is “10 times the number from 2009.”
The three countries the child immigrants mainly travel from are Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The reasons for their immigration, though complex, can basically be simplified to two interrelated factors: poverty and violence in their home countries.
A report by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol emphasized the importance of local factors in influencing the children’s departure, and came to the conclusion that the poverty of Guatemala and the extreme violence in El Salvador and Honduras were providing the impetus for the current migration.
A 2012 study by the U.N. Refugee Agency corroborated this claim, finding that 58 percent of the immigrants were leaving either due to the threat or presence of violence. Clearly, with both the U.N. and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol providing analysis, it seems that violence and poverty are the main driving forces behind this massive immigration.
What makes dealing with the high numbers of child immigrants particularly daunting is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
This legislation was created with bipartisanship support and signed by George Bush in 2008.
Designed as an effort to combat child and sex trafficking into the U.S., the law guarantees that child immigrants, accompanied alone into the U.S., receive an immigration hearing and consultation with an advocate, as long as the child immigrants in question did not originate from either Canada or Mexico.
The act also requires that the children be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human services, and that minors are placed into the least restrictive settings prior to their trials.
Seen as a victory over sex trafficking when passed, this legislation is proving woefully inadequate for dealing with the recent surge in Central American child immigrants, and is proving to complicate issues for the Obama administration as they attempt to deal with this sudden influx.
In an effort to ameliorate this situation and work around the restrictive nature of the Wilberforce act, President Obama requested $3.7 billion for aid in the situation on the border. Part of the money would be directed toward the various operational costs for both maintaining the border and creating detention centers to temporarily house the children.
However, also included is $295 million to be used as international aid to the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help address the underlying root causes of the immigration of the minors. This $295 million, while perhaps coming too late to stem the current tide of immigrants, shows the Obama administration’s recognition of the importance of foreign aid in solving humanitarian crises.
If left unsolved, issues beyond U.S. borders can effect the well-being of America.
However, it is doubtful that the administration will receive the money deemed necessary to handle this issue, as congressional Republicans seem less-than-enthusiastic about the amount proposed.
What, then, will happen to these over 52,000 child immigrants? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have both expressed the desire for these children to be recognized as refugees, with all the legal ramifications accompanying that term. Meanwhile, communities across the American southwest have staged various anti-immigration protests.
As Congress continues to deliberate over how much aid is needed for the situation, what will ultimately happen is up in the air. What is most important is that for all parties involved to remember that, ultimately, these child immigrants are just children in need of help.
– Albert Cavallaro