The child migrant crisis: latest developments

What is happening with the so-called unaccompanied child migrant crisis

The “crisis” appears to be shrinking. Up to 85 percent of the 57,000 or so child migrants have now been placed with parents, other family members or sponsors living in the United States. This suggests that from the start, most of these children, fleeing violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, were hoping to connect with these relatives living in the United States. So the absurdity of the right-wing Republicans in talking about an “invasion” by diseased, crime prone pseudo-children is even more blatant.

Many of these relatives who now have taken responsibility for the children are probably undocumented. Some Republicans were not slow in demanding that they be rounded up and deported along with their children. This cruel proposal once more shows the urgency of doing something about the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in this country, i.e. giving them legal status either by legislation or, since the Republican controlled House of Representatives is obstructing that, by presidential executive action of the kind that the immigrants’ rights movement and its labor, religious and other allies have been demanding.

This would entail expanding President Obama’s 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program to cover, at least, the parents of the Dreamers (undocumented children and young adults who were brought into the United States by their parents when they were minors) and parents of children who have U.S. citizenship.

At least one public opinion poll shows that a solid majority  of U.S. people, up to 69 percent, think the refugee children should be properly cared for here and not given a bum’s rush back to Central America where they face life threatening situations. (A second poll shows more negative views.). Turnout at demonstrations against the children has not been huge and there have been healthy counter-demonstrations.

Some officials have been making statements and carrying out actions in support of humane treatment for the immigrant children. First up was Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts,  followed by a number of others: The governors of Oregon and Maryland, the Mayor of Syracuse, New York and even Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago whose relationship with the immigrants’ rights movement has been rocky.

President Obama had requested $3.7 billion to cover the extra costs of the spike in unaccompanied child migration, but the Republican House leadership is only offering $659 million and much less than Obama had asked for in housing and other care.

The bill would require changes in the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This law requires that children other than Mexicans and Canadians apprehended without papers at the border be given due process rights to prove, if they can, that they should be allowed to stay in the United States as refugees, asylees or witnesses to trafficking or other crimes. Also, they have to be properly cared for while they are here. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has concluded, based on interviews with the children, that most of them probably could make a case to be allowed to stay under this law.

So far, Democrats in the House and Senate, along with the AFL-CIO  and a vast array of religious, civil rights and immigrants’ rights organizations, have opposed changing the Wilberforce law or to otherwise legislating in ways that put the children in danger or deprive them of due process rights. Other organizations, including, have been working to raise money to help the children.  It Immigrants’ rights organizations are asking people to ask their congressional representatives to oppose legislation that would damage the due process rights of migrant children.

Yet the White House has not stood up for the rights of the children. The president has indicated that he might be receptive to changes that allow for faster processing of the children. Children and women continue to be sent back to Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate in the world. Our government has been putting pressure on Mexico not to let Central American migrants pass through its territory on the way to the United States, and there are reports that this crackdown is taking hold.  

On Friday July 25, President Obama met at the White House with Presidents Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala and Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador. Honduras and Guatemala are countries with horrible human rights records involving abusive conduct by armed forces and police personnel. Under a new left-wing president, El Salvador has not yet been able to break free from this sort of thing. The Obama administration is asking the three governments to upgrade their work to reduce violence and to stop undocumented migration to the United States, with a promise of money to help them do it. Many fear that pouring more money into abusive and corrupt security systems will worsen the problem.

On Thursday July 31, the Republican sponsors of the legislation in the House modified it to win over tea party elements who had demanded that it include language calling for the substantial dismantlement of DACA. This version, broken into two bills passed but their ferocity virtually assures that they could not get through the Democratic-Majority Senate.

President Obama denounced the legislation as passed.

Photo: Gov. Deval Patrick Statement on Sheltering of Unaccompanied Minors in Massachusetts, website.




Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.