Border Crisis: What to do with Unaccompanied Children

The Department of Homeland Security is facing a major border crisis with the waves of unaccompanied children crossing the border in recent months. An unprecedented number of undocumented children have entered the country since last year and it appears as though this trend won’t be slowing down any time soon. Border Patrol officials predict that upwards of 150,000 immigrant children will illegally gain entrance into the U.S. in the next year.[1]

Under an anti-human-trafficking law passed in 2008 by the Bush Administration, unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada must be handed over to officials from the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. They are then housed in shelters and, where possible, released to family members or sponsors in the US pending the resolution of their cases. Government agencies were not prepared for the sudden influx of such a massive number of child immigrants, and the facilities designated for holding such children are filled well beyond capacity.

This situation raises a difficult question – what should be done with these children? Should they be sent back to their home countries where they may be exposed to sexual assault or gang violence? Should they be given asylum in the United States, when the Department of Homeland Security has already requested $38.2 billion in funding for the 2015 fiscal year?[2]

Causes of the current crises

Some blame the Obama administration claiming that lax immigration policies can be attributed to the influx. Others attribute their arrival to the high levels of crime and rates of violence in their home countries. Talks of immigration reform, along with the passage of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) may have given hope to those families suffering in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Whatever the reason, something needs to be done in order to solve this budding emergency.

Possible solutions

The president has recently addressed the seriousness of the crisis, designating an inter-agency Unified Coordination Group to address the situation; the Department of Homeland Security will be working with the Departments of Health and Human Services, State, Defense, and other agencies to ensure a rapid government-wide response.[3] He has requested $3.7 billion from Congress to address the situation, including $64 million for the Department of Justice to hire additional immigration judges and provide some form of legal representation to those children who are to be placed in removal proceedings and $300 million for the Department of State to repatriate those deported to Central American countries.  Many are skeptical of this large sum of money, and feel that writing a “blank check” is not the best solution to the situation. Once a short-term solution is agreed upon, it is imperative that the House of Representatives consider legislative changes that would help deal with the current crises and prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

[1] http://freebeacon.com/issues/dhs-mass-exodus-of-children-illegally-crossing-border-stresses-authorities/

[2] https://www.dhs.gov/news/2014/03/04/secretary-johnson-announces-fiscal-year-2015-budget-request

[3] http://www.dhs.gov/news/2014/06/02/statement-secretary-johnson-increased-influx-unaccompanied-immigrant-children-border

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