Thursday, June 26, 2014

When Immigration Becomes a Human Rights Concern

     It's no secret the United States has an immigration problem.  Aside from the bickering in Washington and the pontificating by pundits over the future of immigration reform in Congress, the issue of immigration into the United States has reached a critical level.  President Obama has received criticism for his lax enforcement of immigration laws, yet he is also referred to as the "deporter-in-chief."  His administration has struggled to cope with rising immigration trends and has tried to maintain a policy of not breaking families apart, which has proved problematic.

     TIME Magazine reported last week that the immigration issue has reached crisis levels and raises concerns for human rights.  TIME's report highlights an influx of children entering the United States, which is much more difficult for US officials to adjudicate than adults.  Typically, adults who are discovered to be undocumented immigrants, are deported while minors are sent to live with family already in the United States.  Cartels in Central America have discovered this policy to be a profitable enterprise as they charge as much as $8,000 per child smuggled to the United States according to TIME.  Three countries have become an increasing concern for such behavior, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

     Honduras is the murder capital of the world, with rampant crime and gang activity, which Honduran President Juan Orlando Hern├índez, believes is the root cause for so many fleeing children, though in his words, the children are "displaced by war."  The crime and corruption in Honduras has grown over the past few years as 44 percent of Honduran children have cited war as the reason for their emigration according to reporting by TIME.  In fact, Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall, traveled to Honduras over the past two days to discuss "bilateral and regional issues, human rights, and security cooperation with government officials."  Honduras has become an increasing concern for the United States. State Department officials feel the need to support the troubled country as well as ensure continued protection of US interests and projects.

     Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has reiterated that there is no "free pass" for families entering the United States illegally.  In fact, the Associated Press reported that since October, border officials have captured 52,000 illegal children entering the United States.  Such numbers have put a serious strain on the Department of Homeland Security as they have had to transport children and families to Arizona and to military bases in Texas for processing.  Backlogs in the judicial system have forced families to wait extended periods of time to hear their fate.  This means families are stuck in detention centers where the average wait for a hearing is 578 days.  Even modest attempts and suggestions by President Obama to expedite these hearings by sending immigration judges to problem border towns will not put a dent into the increasing backlog, said Rebecca Leber of The New Republic.

     The Supreme Court recently ruled that children who are waiting for visas in the United States can be bumped to the "back of the line" once they turn 21 or "age out" because once they turn 21, their application is moved into the adult processing and thus, they are placed at the end of the adult processing line regardless of how much time they waited as a "child" under the statutory definition.  Though a separate category of the immigration process, it nonetheless contributes to the large backlog of immigration proceedings and can contribute to increased trafficking numbers as children may be discouraged by the long wait and prospect of "aging out" that they may attempt to enter the country illegally.        

     The administration is in a bind because many children face threats of violence if returned to their home countries, which has warranted officials to allow them to stay for the time being.  President Obama has made attempts to be a human rights champion on many levels (and failed dismally on others) but the immigration issue is gaining increasingly negative attention.  Despite efforts to increase funding for immigration officials, illegal immigration, especially among minors, has continued to rise.

     Two of the most hotly contested issues concerning comprehensive immigration reform in Congress are increased border security and amnesty.  Many congressional hawks do not want to touch an immigration bill that, 1) does not make significant effort to strengthen the border and, 2) gives amnesty to undocumented immigrants.  While increased border security appears to be the most common sense short term measure to combat rising childhood immigration, it is not so easy to achieve.  In times of budget constraints and global military crises, the United States will surely have a battle over budget allocation.  Additionally, something must be done about the myriad minor immigrants already in the country who have either been shipped to holding centers, or are waiting for visas.  A good start to solving this problem is diplomacy.  If the United States can assist Central American states with good governance practices, it's possible that the high emigration rates due to crime and violence may stabilize.                        

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