Unaccompanied Minors – The Newest Immigration Problem

As the debate rages on about comprehensive immigration reform, yet another major wrinkle has been added with the recent surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the Texas border. These children are sent to the United States by families desperate to save them from the rampant poverty and gang violence in their Central American countries. Young children are recruited into gangs or taken by gangs and assaulted, raped, or worse in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many undocumented immigrants, both children and adults have requested political asylum in the United States because of the gang violence. Even if there were not the threat of gang violence, the harsh economic conditions are driving more families to send their children to the United States to survive.

Once crossing illegally into the United States, the juveniles simply give themselves up instead of sneaking further to avoid detection by the Border Patrol. This is due to United States policy that generally results in their eventual release to designated caregivers in the United States.

Many of these children come already with notes indicating who is waiting for them in the United States to take custody of them once they are processed by the immigration authorities and released from immigration custody. The problem now is that because this loophole has become better known, the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States has increased dramatically resulting in overcrowded holding facilities.

For instances, the Office of Refugee Resettlement served over 24,000 immigrant children in 2013 and so far this year the agency has counted more than 42,000. This compared to the average amount before the surge of 7-8 thousand a year.

A good number of these children are placed in removal proceedings and have hearings before an Immigration Judge. The children can apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile status and obtain a green card. To do so, the child must be declared a dependent of the State Family Court or legally place you with an agency or private person; it must be shown that it is not in the best interest of the child to return to their home country; and that the child cannot be reunited with a parent because of either: abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar reason under State law. Once this process is approved, the removal proceedings are usually terminated.

This issue will surely bring the immigration debate to a head in the coming weeks and months as it demonstrates how our immigration system is broken along with other glaring examples previously highlighted by proponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

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