Child immigration to US causes 'urgent humanitarian situation'

There has been a huge increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving on the United States border with Mexico. President Obama has declared this 'an urgent humanitarian situation' and has asked Congress for $160m in funding to provide accommodation and other types of support for the children who have come into the US from Mexico and Central America.

Just under 25,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended along the Mexico-US border in the 2013 fiscal year, (which ended on 30th September 2013). So far in the 2014 fiscal year, (which began on 1st October 2013), over 33,000 have been apprehended along the Texan border alone.

US immigration expects that the 2014 total is likely to be near to 80,000. This is twelve times the number who made the same journey in 2011.

'A particularly vulnerable group'

Alejandro Mayorkas, the deputy secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (the department responsible for processing of immigration applications and for policing the border) told journalists 'The children that are arriving are a particularly vulnerable group. They have often survived a hazardous journey to have arrived here'.

The large number of children arriving in the US has forced the US immigration authorities to house them at disused military bases in Texas and California and at other Government owned buildings in the southern states.

It is reported by many news sources that some young people are sleeping without blankets. There are also said to be extremely limited washing facilities in at least one of the buildings being used by the US Government to accommodate the children.

Children are fleeing poverty and violence

The White House has blamed the increase in the numbers of children arriving unaccompanied at the border on the levels of poverty and violence in the children's home countries which they say gives them a strong incentive to leave.

But Republican members of Congress blame President Obama. Representative Bob Goodlatte, a member of the House of Representatives from Texas, told Fox News 'the recent surge of children and teenagers from Central America showing up at our southern border is an administration-made disaster'.

Mr Goodlatte issued a statement saying 'Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama's lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally'.

DACA

The Republicans claim that the migrants have been encouraged to come to the US believing that they will be allowed to stay because of an executive order put in place by President Obama in August 2012.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (known as DACA) offered the opportunity for some young illegal immigrants to apply for immunity from deportation for a two year period.

In order to qualify applicants were required to;

  • Have arrived in the US before they were 16 years old
  • Have arrived in the US no later than 2007
  • Have lived in the US for over 5 years
  • Be aged 30 or under
  • Be in school, or a graduate or have served in the military
  • Not have been convicted of certain, serious criminal offences nor pose a safety or security threat

Congress makes the law

Under the US system, it is Congress, not the President, which makes laws, and so the President was not able to offer young people citizenship nor was he able to change the law so that they would be eligible for visas.

But, as the head of the government, he was able to alter the way in which immigration law is applied and therefore he was able to offer them temporary immunity from immigration.

Those eligible then had to pay $465 for a 'determination' that they would not be deported for two years.

Children believe they will be allowed to stay

Republicans, who like to blame President Obama for virtually everything, say that the creation of the DACA program has led to a widespread, though mistaken, belief in Central America that any children arriving on the US border will be allowed to stay.

It seems that, on this occasion, the Republicans may be partially right. Though the White House was always very clear that no one arriving after 2007 would be eligible for DACA, it may be that people in Central and South America still did not realise this which resulted in a wave of young migrants coming to the US.

Tania Chavez, a representative of the Spanish speaking union La Union del Pueblo Entero, told a Texas TV station that people smugglers, known as 'coyotes', were spreading misinformation in Guatemala, Honduras and other poor Central American nations that young people will be admitted to the US because of DACA.

People smugglers

They then persuade the families of young people to pay for them to be taken to the US border.

The US Vice President, Joe Biden, is to fly to Guatemala to spread the message that the DACA program does not apply to recent migrants. The US is working with the governments of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador to explain the true position.

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