Lawmakers Face Daunting Decision for Illegal Immigrant Children

Monday, 30 Jun 2014 09:59 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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President Barack Obama’s move to ask Congress to approve $2 billion in emergency funding to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors flooding U.S. borders further complicates an already factious political situation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The money is for bolstering security along the southwest borders as well as funding humanitarian assistance programs to handle the tens of thousands of children entering the country illegally. But the request will also ask Congress to revise existing statutes to accelerate the screening and deportation of young unaccompanied migrants who are not from Mexico, The New York Times reported. Illegal immigrants from Mexico are already deported on a "fast track" since the country shares a border with the United States.

The proposal puts lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate in a tough spot. If approved, parts of a 2008 bipartisan law, passed under President George W. Bush, mandating protections for minors fleeing "violence and poverty" would be tossed, according to the Los Angeles Times, presenting lawmakers "with an unpleasant vote on whether to deport children."

The newspaper reported that hard-line conservatives are likely to favor the decision to expedite child deportations because it sends a message that the United States won’t tolerate illegal immigration.

Others, especially legislators with large swaths of immigrants in their districts, may worry that green-lighting the president’s request may signal that comprehensive immigration reform needs to happen, an issue that has failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House.

"We have to be humanitarian but at the same time let them know that if they do come, they cannot stay here," Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Otherwise, we'll never stop the flow."

Since October, 52,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S. border, more than triple the 15,700 figure from fiscal 2011, according to The Economist. The majority are coming from Central America, through Mexico. Gang violence and domestic issues have been cited as the driving force, as have false rumors that children and families will be allowed to stay if they make it across the border.

The influx has created a humanitarian crisis in many cities, whose social services and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed.

The Los Angeles Times reported that smugglers in Central America are portraying asylum hearings as tickets to freedom. The newspaper said that it’s not a totally inaccurate portrayal.

After 72 hours, the Department of Homeland Security must transfer detained children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is required to "act in the best interest of the child. That often means reuniting the child with a parent or relative living in the U.S. With the massive backlog in immigration courts, migrants can spend years in the U.S. before their cases are heard," Lisa Mascaro and Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times wrote.

If Obama’s changes are approved, that hearing will be eliminated, according to the newspaper, and the children will have a single opportunity to make their pleas to immigration officials immediately after being detained.

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