The surge of immigrant children crossing the border into the United States is not going to stop as long as government officials continue to send the message to people in Mexico and Central America that they most likely will be able to stay, an immigration expert says.
"This administration needs to rethink its laxity about immigration enforcement," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
"This is all being covered in Spanish media, and they are getting the message down there that Obama is letting us stay and we want to get here quick," Krikorian told Newsmax. "Until the grapevine sends the message home — that hey, the party is over — this is not going to stop. It's going to grow.
"Word must get back that America has wised up. It is essential to change expectations of people in Central America."
The Obama administration recently revealed that a third military base
in Oklahoma would be opened to care for the massive surge of young illegal immigrants, mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The opening follows the opening of two other emergency shelters in the past week at Lakeland Air Force Base in San Antonio and a naval base in Ventura, Calif., to accommodate the influx.
The cost to house, feed, vaccinate, and process the unaccompanied young people has forced the administration to seek a reported extra $1.57 billion for the Department of Health and Human Servicesfor the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.
Most of that request would be directed at HHS's Office for Refugee Resettlement. The Department of Homeland Security is also seeking extra funds to help pay for overtime and other expenses incurred by the influx, with one Border Patrol official putting the number of unaccompanied immigrant children migrating at about 60,000 in 2014.
Christopher Wilson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said he is surprised by how quickly the number of minors crossing the border has increased. While migration leveled off in 2008 during the economic crisis, hitting a low two years ago, the numbers have steadily ticked up in recent years.
"It is strange in a period of historically low migration we're seeing very high and quickly rising numbers of unaccompanied minors," Wilson told Newsmax. "We are still talking about very low numbers for overall migrations. There is a change in who is migrating, with more from Central America."
Many youths are coming to the U.S. for traditional reasons — to escape poverty and seek higher wages. For younger children, who are not of an age to work, it has more to do with reunification with their families, Wilson said.
Immigrant parents already in the country illegally could be concerned that if they return to their native country, they may not be able to re-enter the United States with their children, so they are having the youths trafficked instead.
"We are having these kids traveling through Mexico, an already scary journey without papers or documents, and now you are talking about kids doing it with a smuggler or older child bringing younger children in," Wilson said.
The United States has been caught off guard by the sheer numbers.
"Clearly the capacity of the federal government to deal with the arrivals of these unaccompanied minors is not on par with the number of people we are seeing," Wilson said.
"More continue to arrive and they just don't have the right place to stay. HHS does not have the infrastructure in place, the centers for these kids to hold them while they are being processed. Government's ability to respond has just been overwhelmed."
U.S. officials can return the migrants to the border with Mexico, but getting many back to Central American countries is a harder task. Minors must also be returned to guardians or adults at the border.
Krikorian says U.S. government policies are to blame for the crisis.
"My concern is the people in the administration are unwilling to accept that. They really do believe it's a refugee crisis like [after] an earthquake or hurricane and we just need to do the best we can in accommodating and resettling these people. Because of that, I don't see them as being up to the task. This is going to get worse before it gets better."
Politically, Krikorian called the migration "terrible" for the current administration.
"The whole premise of the push for so-called comprehensive immigration reform is we have gotten control over the border situation and we have fixed problems of the past, and illegals here now have been here a long time as a result of past mistakes. Let's tie up loose ends and move one," he said. "But if we have 1,000 people a night streaming across one section of the border in Texas, obviously things are not under control. The whole rationale for immigration reform is undermined."
Officials in Washington "politically have to insist it is not the results of their policies," he added. "This is really damaging for their amnesty push."
Republicans, however, have done little thus far to refocus the issue and seize on the Democrats' handling of the problem, Krikorian said.
"The Republican leadership is essentially giving them a pass. [Alabama Sen.] Jeff Sessions is not. [Virginia Rep.] Bob Goodlatte was quite clear that this is Obama's crisis, that he created this. But I don't hear the speaker of the House saying anything about it. Nobody is going on the Sunday talk shows to talk about who created these crises."
As politicians will no doubt debate who is at fault and as government must somehow handle the young detainees, people must not forget about the human element involved, Wilson cautioned.
He said the United States must work to convey to families the danger of sending children across the border alone.
"I actually think that one of the things we can do in partnership with countries in Central America and Mexico is to do a better job of [conveying] how dangerous this is," Wilson said. "A lot of children are exposed to big risks by organized crime and common criminals in Mexico, too. I don't think that is a situation that anyone wants to put their kid in."
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