Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: Humanitarian Crisis? On MSNBC


Parents handing their children to coyotes or human smugglers for passage to the U.S. is not new. I learned that first hand when I started my journalism career in Texas, specifically in the Rio Grande Valley. I interviewed countless parents who hoped the thousands of dollars paid and their prayers would be enough to protect their children from dehydration, rape, or death. What is new are the skyrocketing number of arrivals; approximately 52,000 children have overwhelmed the Border Patrol, detention centers, and local communities with that number estimated by the end of the year to reach 60,000. Add to this 39,000 women.

Why this human tsunami across the Rio Grande or the Río Bravo as this river is known in Mexico? Some Republicans blame the President for creating a perception of leniency stemming from the hiatus to deportations of the so-called DREAMers–young immigrants who were brought here as children and are currently enrolled in school and/or the military. However, it’s pretty clear that the DREAMer exception requires immigrants who were brought as children to have been in this country for years. What is also clear is a 2008 anti-human trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush that requires Central American children first appear in immigration court as opposed to being bused back as happens with those from Mexico. Add to this the reality that while deportations are at historic levels, removals of children have significantly slowed according to terrific journalism by Brian Bennett of The Los Angeles Times. By filing a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain data not readily made available by Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE), Bennet reports that the number of immigrants under 18 who were deported or turned away fell from 8,143 in 2008 to 1,669 last year.

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Paired with Telemundo anchor and new MSNBC host José Díaz-Balart Courtesy: MSNBC

The President, christened the Deporter-in-Chief of simply El Deportador for the record removals on his watch, is not standing with a megaphone on the border, exclaiming, permisos for any child who makes it across! Rather, nefarious elements in the Central America underworld connected to human and drug trafficking are taking advantage of the laws and the immigration reform standstill to profit by spreading rumors that children who make it across will be treated with leniency. With each passage costing up to $12,000, there’s a lot of money to be made, not just from gullible, humble parents but from their fear. Violence against women and children in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras has skyrocketed in part due to the deadly trifecta of gang violence, drug and human trafficking, as well as the southbound flow of guns from the U.S. which I blogged about two years ago in UPDATED with NPR’s Tell Me More Interview: TWLC’s Viviana Hurtado Moderates Panel with Nobel Peace Laureate.

The solutions proposed include $2 billion dollars requested by the President and Democratic lawmakers to move resources to the border to help communities tending to these children and equip immigration courts with judges and lawyers to expedite removals–despite some qualifying for asylum, special visas, or protections under the aforementioned 2008 law. A GOP House freshman is floating a proposal to cut off all aid to Central American countries that don’t get their violence under control. Absent is a Central American foreign policy in the form of development and military aid that demands accountability and benchmarks to reign in the gangs and the lawlessness. Stamping out government corruption and impunity of criminals that commit and enable the violence, at times to great profit, as well as strengthening the judiciary are pillars that are crucial requirements of Plan Colombia, deemed a foreign policy success, and U.S. aid to help Mexico combat the drug cartels–the latter garnering an “incomplete” report card.

Will images of plane loads of infants, toddlers, tweens, and teens being deported revive comprehensive immigration reform? After covering this story for more than ten years and see it flatline and resuscitate countless times, I am doubtful. The heat is on both parties–Republicans who can’t tame their extremist wing are on track to lose Hispanic voters for at least one generation. The President and Democrats are receiving blowback from House Republican obstruction on comprehensive immigration reform in the form of slowing down the deportation juggernaut.

It continues to be business as usual in Washington which means our immigration system is as broken as our national political culture.

The unaccompanied children is one of the topics I discussed on MSNBC’s The Reid Report with host Joy-Ann Reid, who is among the first in the mainstream media to shine a spotlight on this developing story, along with Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart. Click below to watch the segment which aired on June 16, 2014.

Recommendations for the President on how to handle the flood of unaccompanied children?
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