ImmigrationU.S. mulls ways to handle complex child immigration issue

Published 28 July 2014

The influx of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States has reached crisis proportions, with 90,000 now in the United States. The children are escaping violence and deprivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but a George W. Bush-era law prevents their rapid repatriation. Leading Republicans want to change the law, but many Democrats condition such a change on folding it into a comprehensive immigration reform.

Due to the highly publicized influx of child immigrants into the United States from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the U.S. government has been having a difficult time deciding on the best way to deal with a growing crisis.

As Voice of America reports, the United States deported thirty-eight children and their mothers back to Honduras last week, in what has been said to be a continued deportation response to the problem. The report notes, however, that the current number of unaccompanied child immigrants is reaching 90,000 – more than triple the number just three years ago. Many of these children are escaping extreme violence and poverty in their homelands.

What is complicating the current crisis is a 2008 law which grants children entering the country from anywhere but Mexico or Canada the right to a hearing in immigration court to decide whether they should be allowed asylum on humanitarian grounds. The current influx, however, is leading many to question whether this is the best policy.

Anna Shavers, an immigration law expert at the University of Nebraska, told VOA, “It does sound like a very, very large influx at one time, and the reason it sounds so big, that the United States is different from a lot of countries because we’ve not had [the] large numbers that some countries had…But when we have 50,000, 60,000 people, the question is can we absorb that many people?”

President Barack Obama and many lawmakers have called the unprecedented immigration a “humanitarian crisis.” Others, especially members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, have called the president’s immigration policy “lax” and pledged to vote against a $3.7 billion measure to handle the situation, which, they argue, does not incorporate a military strategy to the situation. The measure would mainly finance the judicial apparatus necessary to process all of the immigrants and continue enforcement of the border.

A different way of approaching the problem has been offered by Texas governor Rick Perry’s(R), who pledged to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. U.S. DHS secretary Jeh Johnson also supported increased action when he stated that “Our message is clear. If you come to this country illegally into the Rio Grande Valley sector, we intend to send you back consistent with our laws and we are building additional capability to do that quicker and safely.”

Despite these arguments, people such as Shavers see an urgent need for compromise.

“Right now, they have to have some kind of a hearing,” she said. “And if Congress passes a law that says they can be put on a plane and flown right back, I think there are some problems with that, because suppose those children really are in danger of their lives?”