As you’ve probably read by now, American immigration law deals with unaccompanied minors from Mexico differently than those from non-contiguous countries. Mexican children can be sent back immediately by a border patrol agent, while those from non-contiguous countries have to have a hearing before a judge. A new bill in Congress does the exact opposite of what should be done to fix that.
In response to President Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency funding request, two Texas lawmakers Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) are pushing the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act to make the federal government deport Central American children just as quickly as they already do with Mexican children.
In practice, children from contiguous countries (i.e. Mexico and Canada) are currently returned to their home countries almost immediately. Children from nations other than Mexico and Canada are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be screened and housed while waiting for their court hearing…
Despite their claim, their proposal misses the point and fails to address the current system, which is failing Mexican children. Border Patrol agents — not immigration judges — make the initial determination about whether Mexican children can stay in the United States based on whether the child will be afraid of returning to his home country; whether the child is a human trafficking victim or may become a victim in their home country; and whether the child understands the implications of returning to Mexico. If they conclude that the child is not eligible for legal protection, the border patrol agents offer them the chance to voluntarily return home. In practice, border patrol agents are not qualified to adequately screen these kids for these various forms of relief and their “offer” to voluntarily return home often amounts to coercion.
Children don’t always understand the process and are frequently unable to articulate their fear within the 48 hours Border Patrol agents have to do this screening. As Vox highlighted, one teenage girl told a border agent that she was afraid of being forced into prostitution only after her paperwork had been filed. According to a June 2014 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees report obtained by Vox, the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agency’s “style of interviewing Mexican unaccompanied alien children seemed to focus on producing quick answers rather than substantive ones.”
Calling a bill that would send those kids back faster makes the name of the legislation — HUMANE — downright Orwellian. Every single one of them should be given food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment and afforded the opportunity to have their situation adjudicated by a judge, not quickly disposed of by a border patrol agent.