Leadership Strategy

Unaccompanied Minors Detained At Border Stir Immigration Debate


Standing in a border patrol boat armed with machine guns and wearing a khaki coloured fishing shirt and baseball hat, Republican Senator Cruz drew attention to the problems at the U.S.-Mexican border with the help of professional photographers. Cruz was accompanied by 17 other Republican senators including John Cornyn, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham. Later Cruz condemned President Biden for the conditions in what he called the “Biden cages” of young migrants in Texas calling them “inhumane” and “unconscionable.”

Why Are They Coming Here?

But the question is, why are these kids fleeing across the American border if the conditions are so bad? The answer is that poverty, desperation and the violence and instability of Central America are forcing immigrants to flee to America in search of a new life. Nothing any U.S. president says is going to stop this flight northward. Faced with both runaway families and unaccompanied minors at the border, the Biden administration and indeed, even most Americans, want the country to adhere to its values and protect such people from harm. They are not ready to send such families and children back to the dangers they escaped. But then what should be done?

Always A Source of Illegal Entry

The U.S.-Mexican border has always been been a source of illegal immigration into the United States. We saw similar migratory patterns with spikes in arrivals at the border in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, and now 2021. Both the Obama and Trump administrations used deterrence-based policies to try to prevent people from coming to the United States. Obama detained families while Trump separated families and sent them into dangerous conditions in Mexico under the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.

Neither policy worked in the long-term. They temporarily suppressed arrivals, but the crushing factors in home countries and drivers of migration remained. Within a few years of each punitive policy’s implementation, there was another increase in people coming to the border. What is happening now under Biden is therefore neither unique nor unprecedented. Indeed, despite claims of Biden’s “open borders” policy, his administration continues to rapidly expel most people encountered at the border. Last month for example, 72% of all people encountered at the border were sent back to Mexico or expelled to their home countries. And while unaccompanied children and some families at the border have been allowed to come into the country and challenge their deportation in immigration court, they represent only a small fraction of overall entrants.

To his credit, Biden is trying to take steps to ensure orderly and humane processing. But it will take time to set up the humanitarian infrastructure needed. His efforts are being hampered by false claims made about the incomers, such as the contention that immigrants are spreading COVID-19. Actually, recent testing of arrivals at Brownville, TX showed a lower positive COVID-19 test rate of 6.3% than the rest of the state, which had a 9% positive COVID-19 test rate.

Solutions Are Evasive

Solutions for what is happening at the southern border are not easy to find. This is no different than what is taking place at other borders worldwide. Europe has had to deal with a steady flow of illegal immigrants crossing over from North Africa—some 13,000 migrants just since January. Canada has had about 20,000 irregular border crossings per year in recent years. Half of those cases are still pending, and of the remaining half, 50% were denied. And that is not even counting border problems like the exodus of 730,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar. Probably the best that can be done in America’s case, is to stem the tide significantly.

Complying With The Law

However, to comply with U.S. asylum and humanitarian law, the U.S. needs to ensure the fair, humane and orderly screening of people at the border. Simply throwing them into detention is not the right answer. Instead, the government should supply urgent humanitarian resources, such as: medical aid, food, water and shelter to those who have come. The government should also release people in need of assistance to be with family and community groups but still make sure they understand the legal process and their obligation to appear in court.

To ensure the process works efficiently and that people understand they need to attend at their court hearing, government officials should ensure that individuals at the border have legal counsel and community-based supervision and support. What appears to be different these days than in times before is that there are desperate families in Central America who are prepared to gamble on America’s decency, and send their unaccompanied children north in the hope they will be allowed U.S. entry. It may also be true that these families are calculating that at least one day, their children once landed, will be able to sponsor them to America. But even in those cases, decisions affecting such unaccompanied minors should be based on what is in the best interest of the child and may result in their placement with American relatives. That may be the price America will have to pay for its long neglect of Central America in the past.

U.S. Central American Policy Needs Less Might And More Right

As Aviva Chomsky, a professor of history and Latin American studies points out in a recent article, Biden’s immigration proposals regarding Central America will not work because they propose, “pouring millions of dollars in “aid” money into upgrading local military and police forces in order to protect an economic model based on private investment and the export of profits.” She adds, “this is the very model that Washington has imposed on the countries of Central America over the past century, one that’s left its lands corrupt, violent, and impoverished, and so continued to uproot Central Americans and send them fleeing toward the United States.” Instead, she suggests the problems in Central America are, “the result of decades of brutal state repression of democratic movements by right-wing regimes and the implementation of economic models designed to benefit local oligarchs and transnational corporations.” She concludes, “Far too often, the United States has been a major force behind these policies, which have impoverished the majority of the population and devastated the environment.”

Vice President Harris To The Rescue

Biden recently appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to help deal with the Central American issue. She has already begun meetings to address the matter. Hopefully such discussions will lead to a economic recovery package for Central America much like the Marshall Plan helped Europe at the end of World War II.

In the end, however, what is happening at the border is part of a larger broken immigration system that is in need of reform. The majority of the American people know the current immigration system does not work and want solutions. What is needed to address the southern border problem is a displaced persons policy similar to what America had at the end of World War II where U.S. sponsors help relieve the burden of bringing refugees into the country. Hopefully, solutions that are enacted will include policies like those discussed here. Failure to do that will only lead to even more problems at the border with harsher consequences for those who come, and in the end for America as well.



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