Unaccompanied Minors Crossing U.S. Border Prompt Humanitarian Concerns

Fear seems to be driving the recent surge of unaccompanied minors who have been crossing the southwestern border of the United States. The children – largely from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala – are fleeing an epidemic of gang violence in their home countries, an epidemic so severe that they are willing to leave home and risk the long and perilous journey northward just to escape, according to experts familiar with the situation in their home countries. [See 5 Answers: Why the Surge in Migrant Children at Border? by Bob Ortega, Arizona Republic, 10.Jun.2014.]

Statistics released by the Department of Homeland Security indicate that in the Rio Grande Valley, upwards of 150 unaccompanied children each day – some days, more than 250 – are being apprehended as they try to sneak across the border, leaving immigration authorities to wrestle with the difficult logistical challenges of feeding, housing, and eventually providing due process to these children. [See Congressional Advisory: Unaccompanied Children Summary, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, 11.Jun.2014.]

Several government agencies are working together to deal with what President Obama has termed a humanitarian crisis: the Departments of Defense (DoD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), and other agencies, are implementing a five-step process:

  • Step 1 – Each child is identified, undergoes an initial health screening, and removal proceedings are begun.
  • Step 2 – HHS provides a further medical check, immunizations, and shelter assignment.
  • Step 3 – DHS transports each child to an assigned HHS – or temporary DoD – shelter.
  • Step 4 – Each child stays at the HHS shelter until a sponsor is identified.
  • Step 5 – Each child is placed with a relative or other sponsor until the immigration case is resolved.

[See Unaccompanied Children at the Southwest Border, flow chart, Department of Homeland Security, 11.Jun.2014.]

A recent article in Mother Jones underscores the importance of taking a proactive approach to this humanitarian emergency. Citing data that the nonprofit National Immigrant Justice Center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act suit against DHS, Mother Jones reveals that hundreds of children have been locked up in adult immigration detention centers in recent years: “the federal government detained at least 1,366 immigrant children for three or more days in 30 adult facilities between 2008 and 2012.” [See The U.S. is Locking Up Undocumented Kids with Adults, by Ian Gordon, Mother Jones, 06.Jun.2014.] That figure might even understate the problem, according to the article, because DHS did not provide statistics on the detention of children in the other 170 or so immigration detention centers.

Given the current situation, it will be more important than ever for the humanitarian community – and the general public – to carefully monitor the measures taken, to help ensure that the best interests of these children remain of paramount concern.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.