Sunday, July 13, 2014

Children at our border $72,000 each!

A much discussed issue over the last several weeks has been the large influx of children crossing the southern  border and entering America unaccompanied by an adult. Most of these kids are coming up from countries south of Mexico. In 2011, fewer than 4,000 children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were caught crossing the border. That number has surged to more than 40,000 of the 52,000 children caught or turning themselves in since October. A law passed in 2008 makes a distinction and requires that these children from countries other than Mexico and Canada be handled and processed differently. Reality on the ground has changed since that law was passed and altering or repealing it would change the way these kids are processed.

This problem has been building for years, a paper trail of funding request show that for months Washington knew this problem was forming but nothing was done. Now calling it a crisis President Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds from Congress to address the surge of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States from the south. The request for funds which is nearly twice as much as originally expected would be used to improve border security, care facilities for the children, additional immigration judges and agents, and efforts to help Central American nations curtail the exodus of children northward.

Lets cut to the chase and the reason I'm writing this article, it is to call attention to the money and the math behind it. Rounding it off for fun 50,000 goes into 3.7 billion 74,000 times. this means the government is asking for roughly $71,153 to cover "handling" each of these children. This does not include the cost of  paying for medical cost and schooling for a 15 year old boy allowed to join his undocumented father in Houston. This is only additional funding going to agencies that are "overwhelmed." Everyone seems to agree this influx of children is a problem. Yes, they are children. Yes, it must and should be handled but to an American who has worked all their life and now lives on a monthly social security check of under $1,000 a month the cost will most likely seem excessive.

Of the 3.7 billion dollars 1.8 are slated to go to Health and Human Services. Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell says it would assist their efforts to humanely treat the needs of the children at the border. "We don't have enough beds," Burwell urged "a robust and compassionate approach" noting many of the children crossing the border are often fleeing personal danger in their respective countries. HHS also provides basic medical and mental health exams to the children, as well as some education resources. The goal of this special outlay is to speed up the processing of these immigrants, with an eye toward sending as many as possible back to their countries of origin and improving the detention conditions while they are here. The White House said that without supplemental funding agencies do not have sufficient resources to adequately address this situation.

Obama's request includes $1.6 billion for the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to support more aggressive deterrence and enforcement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would get $1.1 billion. Most of it would pay for detention and removal of undocumented adults traveling with children, expansion of alternatives to detention programs, and “additional prosecution capacity” for adults with children who cross into the US illegally. Customs and Border Protection would receive $433 million and an additional $300 million will go to State governments and international programs for efforts to counteract misinformation campaigns in Central America and to discourage these children from making the trip north.

This is a dangerous trip and many children have climbed upon the top or hang on to the side of a train known as "the beast" for a free ride north. Experts say they are fleeing exploding violence in their homelands, and are often under the misconception that once here, they'll be permitted to stay. Others come because their parents are conned by smugglers who promise families their children will be safe after they cross the border. The horrors that the children are fleeing are real. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world outside of a war zone, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. Much of the killing is concentrated in poor neighborhoods, where families will do anything to get their children to safety.

This violence, combined with an ambiguous White House policy, has created the current situation according to Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor. In June 2012, President Obama signed a memo called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It permits teen illegal immigrants to stay in the US for up to two years. It also provided new discretion to ICE in enforcement of immigration laws. While DACA does not grant illegal immigrants permanent status, the policy is not well understood in Central America. In fact, we are seeing reports of teenagers showing up at the border with cheat sheets designed to help them gain DACA status and make it more difficult to be deported, such as  claiming their parents are dead, or that they are fearful for their security.

The fact is many of the thousands of children will get to stay, despite warnings to the contrary. The Wall Street Journal reports that data, as well as interviews with the children and their advocates, show that very few children are sent home, and many are allowed to stay in the US for years, if not permanently. Justice Department figures show that in fiscal year 2013, immigration judges ordered 3,525 children to be deported, with an additional 888 allowed to return home voluntarily. These numbers pale in comparison with the number of juveniles apprehended, amounting to between 23,000 and 47,000 children apprehended annually in each of the last five years.

The reasons children are staying included backlogged courts, winning the right to stay, and simply ignoring orders to appear in court. In recent months, the US has been overwhelmed with finding shelter for children entering the country illegally. President Obama repeatedly said that they won’t be allowed to stay but the reality is very different and until this changes more are going to come because they're achieving what they want, safety and reunification with their families. The head of the immigration court system told a Senate hearing that 46 percent of juveniles failed to appear at their hearings during the last eight months. The problem is expected to get worse, due to growing backlogs. As of June 30, there were 41,832 pending juvenile cases, up from about 30,000 nine months earlier and it is common for court dates to be set two or three years out.

This is a bad situation not a humanitarian catastrophe and many ways exist to ease the cost and resolve it in a way that diminishes governments role as the ultimate solution. First thing that must be done is retroactively change the 2008 law that gives these children special treatment. Other ideas include funding a  massive advertising campaign to let people know the borders are not open. At little cost the National Guard and Military can rotate troops to the border regions and aid in the round up of these youngsters. Refugee camps or centers to hold them can be ran and overseen by groups like the Red Cross and other NGOs. It is important we do what we can to help these children but this should not be another reason to expand government to clean up a mess government created.



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