Analysis: What’s the Real Reason Behind Central American Immigrant Wave? U.S. Law

Jun 29, 2014 4:21pm

Between the waves of unaccompanied children, more than 52,000 of them so far this year, coming across the border with Mexico and the sharp increase in the number of mothers from Central America carrying their children across, there has been a massive influx of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

The border breach, which President Obama dubbed a “humanitarian crisis,” pitted Republicans and Democrats against each other again last week, the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that died in the House, as to what the cause of the mass influx can be attributed to as they try to resolve the issue.

Republicans have placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Obama and his two-year-old relief for young undocumented immigrants or DREAMERS program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants temporary legal status to those who have spent the majority of their life in the U.S.

At a hearing Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said: “When these individuals were asked why they made the journey to the United States, approximately 95 percent indicated that the main reason was to take advantage of the new U.S. law that grants a free pass or permit, referred to as ‘permisos,’ being issued by the U.S. government to women traveling with minors and unaccompanied alien minors.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said at a press conference: “We believe in the rule of law, and dang it, the federal government has got a job to do.”

What’s the Reality?

In fact, desperate Central American parents are exploiting separate legal loopholes in American border security passed before Obama took office.

Unaccompanied minors fall under the bipartisan law, William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

That law says the children cannot be sent back. They must instead be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in this country.

The child “shall be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child,” the law stipulates. “Placement of child trafficking victims may include placement in an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program … if a suitable family member is not available to provide care.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sources say more than 80 percent of these children will find permanent homes in the U.S., with either family or foster homes and not be sent back to Central America.

Meanwhile, there is no place to house those mothers flooding the border with their children, as Thomas Homan, executive associate director of ICE for Enforcement and Removal Operations, told a House committee last week.

“I have 96 beds — 96 family beds is all I have,” Homan said.

Instead, the Customs and Border Protection (CPB) ends up dropping them at the local bus station to safely join relatives here across the country.

They must promise to appear in immigration court, but no one will say how many ever do. DHS announced last week it is rapidly expanding facilities, opening a 700-bed facility in New Mexico, but until then these are empty threats.

As the president himself told ABC’S George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview, he has no choice.

“We have to house these kids and take care of them until the machinery, under current law, allows us to send them back,” President Obama said Thursday.

And now President Obama is requesting about $2 billion in emergency funding from Congress to help deal with the crisis, along with expanded power for DHS to fast-track deportations. The White House says it plans to send a detailed letter to Congress following the July 4 recess.

The president will also ask for tougher penalties for smugglers who bring children across the border. Current law applies to traffickers but not those smuggling willing individuals across the border.

Just last week, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced legislation in the Senate that would increase penalties for smugglers to 20 years in prison.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said: “It is not safe to send your child on the over 1,000 mile journey into Mexico, into south Texas if you’re a parent considering doing this. DACA is not available for your child.”

Central America Violence

Obama and his administration, meanwhile, say the violence in the Central American countries is to blame for the mass influx.

A travel warning put out this week by the State Department said that “since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world,” citing the homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 people in 2013.

A march 2014 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report found that of 404 unaccompanied children they spoke to who entered the U.S. during or after October 2011, 58 percent “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.”

While the United States received around 85 percent of all applications for asylum, the UNHCR report also found a 435 percent increase in asylum requests from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in other countries — Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize.

This isn’t a new trend. CBP has seen an effective doubling in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the past few years — even before DACA. The number jumped from just over 4,000 in 2011, to almost 10,500 in 2012, and 26,000 in 2013. This year the current number stands at 39,000 for the same three countries.

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