Waves of illegal minors overwhelms border facilities
More than 60,000 illegal minors have poured across the border this year and the government is having a difficult time caring for them.
As recently as 2011, just 6,000 kids crossed the border. The ten-fold increase is the result of a variety of factors, including violence and domestic abuse in their home countries, and President Obama's lax deportation policies.
Many of these kids end up as slave labor before falling into the hands of the government.
The flow is expected to grow. The number of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrants who are under 18 will likely double in 2015 to nearly 130,000 and cost U.S. taxpayers $2 billion, up from $868 million this year, according to administration estimates.
The shortage of housing for these children, some as young as 3, has already become so acute that an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, has been opened and can accommodate 1,000 of them, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in an interview with Reuters.
The issue is an added source of tension between Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on how to rewrite immigration laws. With comprehensive legislation stalled, President Barack Obama is looking at small, administrative steps he could take, which might be announced this summer. No details have been outlined but immigration groups are pressing him to take steps to keep families with children together.
The minors flooding over the border are often teenagers leaving behind poverty or violence in Mexico and other parts of Central America such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They are sometimes seeking to reunite with a parent who is already in the United States, also without documentation.
"This is a humanitarian crisis and it requires a humanitarian response," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said in an interview. The Maryland Democrat, a former social worker, has likened the flood of unaccompanied children to the "boat people" of past exodus movements.
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on Mikulski's committee, said, "The need is there, you know the humanitarian aspect of it, but we're challenged on money."
Immigration groups lobbying for comprehensive reform argue that children are being hit hardest by the political deadlock.
With an even bigger funding challenge looming for 2015, Mikulski worries corners might be cut. She said children could end up being placed in federal holding cells meant only for adults and that funds might have to be shifted from other programs, such as refugee aid, to help cover the $252-per-day cost of detaining a child.
What to do? Deporting most of them would be irresponsible. We'd be sending them back into hell. Foster care? There aren't enough foster parents now for American kids.
Are they refugees or criminals? Or both?
No easy answers, that's for sure - except we're holding them so for the moment, we're responsible for them. That means ponying up the money to take care of them. But $2 billion next year? Perhaps we could send a bill to the countries where these kids originated. If they're going to encourage kids to come here, they should share in the cost of taking care of them.
It won't happen, of course. The whole point of illegal immigration to the US for these countries is that they export their problems so they don't have to deal with them. But sooner or later - and it better be sooner - some sort of reckoning will occur and it won't matter how violent these countries get or how abusive poor parents are to their kids. We can't bankroll the region's social problems. They're going to have to figure it out for themselves.