Want tacos? According to a fast food ad, you should make a run for the border. Many Central Americans, however, simply want their kids to have a better, safer life, so minor offspring are sent on a trek for the U.S. border. As a result, vast quantities of unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S./Mexico border, a boundary extending almost 2,000 miles, only to find themselves in the midst of chaos in their envisioned promised land. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, their situation is a “humanitarian crisis.”
The stream of immigrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is more aptly described as a flood. The numbers are on pace to hit a 20-year peak. Unaccompanied minors account for an astounding number of these illegal immigrants. In fact, the number of unaccompanied minors who illegally entered the U.S. in February reached the highest in U.S. history. But, this record is hardly anything any American wants to brag about.
Why has there been a sudden spike in children entering the U.S.? As with most things in life, multiple factors play a role. The immigration flood has been driving by the destruction left behind by two major hurricanes in 2020, the ravages of the pandemic, poverty, ongoing violence in home countries, food insecurity, and the relaxation in U.S. border enforcement with the change in administration. Unfortunately, while dire conditions were left behind in their home countries, crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has created chaos here. Surprise! They ran away from problems back home only to find new ones at their destination. Out of the frying pan and into the fire it seems.
But people of every age are affected by problems facing residents of Central American countries. Why are the huddled masses Uncle Sam is seeing made up of children? A change has occurred in the enforcement policy of the U.S. government. Instead of turning them away, the current administration is allowing children arriving on their own into this country to remain while a determination is made as to whether they have a legal claim to residency. Single adults and families are, however, turned away. Uncle Sam is implicitly saying, “Let the little children come to me.” Concern for these children is commendable, but the problem is what to do with them after they arrive. They have to go somewhere.
The U.S. isn’t faced with finding shelter for a just a handful of unaccompanied minors. No, sir. Throngs of these children have arrived numbering in the thousands. According to a March 10th report, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America rose over 60% from January to February to a whopping 9,400. Border agents are continuing to apprehend more than 400 children a day. Clearly government agencies are capable of capturing these children, but can they care for them? Apparently not.
When unaccompanied minors are taken into custody by the border patrol, they are required to be held in government facilities until connected with a sponsor. Unfortunately, there’s no room at the inn. As of March 9th, 2,800 apprehended children were awaiting placement in shelters, but less than 500 beds were available. So where do they sleep? Well, the floor’s available, often without a mat. The children are being put in jail-like detention centers at 100% capacity in disregard of COVID-19 protocols. The U.S. is indeed the land of opportunity–to catch a dread disease.
The Border Patrol is only supposed to detain children for no more than three days. This guideline is out the window, along with COVID protocols, because there is basically no space for them in the Health and Human Services System. The skyrocketing numbers of unaccompanied minors has severely strained (broken?) the system’s capacity to hold youths.
What’s a government to do? Why not have a camp out with the kids? That would be fun, right? A tent facility in Donna, Texas is now holding over 1,000 youth and teens with the youngest child being age four. The tent facility boasts packed conditions. Sleeping on the floor is part of the fun of camping, you know. And who needs to shower? Once every 5 days or so is acceptable. NOT!
Thus, the U.S. government went back to the drawing board. Aha! Let’s hold kids indoors. That would be better. Voila! The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas has been designated a detention center for up to 3,000 immigrant teens, boys ages 15-17. What could possibly go wrong with having THOUSANDS of teen boys with nothing but time on their hands and lots of testosterone in their systems? Great plan!!
Part of the problem is that thousands of children are going into detention, but they aren’t coming out–at least not very quickly. HHS currently takes an average of 37 days to release a child. Why? Good question when, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 80% of the children being detained have a relative in the U.S. and 40% have a parent. Attorneys with the National Center for Youth Law have complained that the government is failing to release detained children to immediate family members already in this country. I’m sure those families would welcome their young relatives with open arms. Why should 4,200 unaccompanied immigrant children be in custody as of this weekend when many blood relations are here in the U.S.?
The U.S. government is finally seeing the light and recognizing it has a “big problem” (ya think?) according to the White House press secretary. So what’s the proposed solution? Homeland Security has directed FEMA to help manage and care for the kids crossing the border. Sure, more bureaucracy; that’ll help.
While numbers tell the sad story of the plight of minor children who have made it to the U.S. alone, behind those numbers are precious little children. Each one represents a life already filled with trauma and struggle. If Americans truly care about them, then action needs to be taken to taken. And, that action needs to be a considered and workable plan to deal with those who are let into our country. It is unacceptable to merely open the floodgates to a stream of immigrant children with no viable plan in place to deal with their needs–housing, food, reunification with relatives, etc. If proper assistance cannot be provided, then perhaps a second look at the current immigration policy is needed.
Were you aware of the magnitude of this flood of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S.? How desperate must parents be to send young children off to a foreign country alone? If the U.S. government cannot properly care for unaccompanied minors, should these children be allowed to remain in the country in the first place?