America's southern border is experiencing a surge in undocuments immigrants and has become a hotbed of both political debate. Here's a look into what's happening in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and what local governments and federal officials are doing about it.
Causes of the humanitarian crisis
Since the beginning of the fiscal year, Border Patrol has detained over 52,000 Central American immigrant children who were traveling alone, as well as 39,000 adults with children. There as an important distinction to make between children from Mexico and children from other countries.
There's an uptick in the latter group, and Associated Press suggests that many are "flee[ing] violence, killings and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Many are under the impression they will receive leniency from U.S. authorities, despite coming to the country illegally."
Whereas Mexicans are can be transported immediately back to their native country, the others cannot. Vox explains that under a series of laws passed in 2002
Border Patrol is required to take child migrants who aren't from Mexico into custody, screen them, and transfer them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (a part of the Department of Health and Human Services).
The law tasks HHS with either finding a suitable relative to whom the child can be released, or putting the child in long-term foster care." …
According to Wendy Young of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an advocacy organization for unaccompanied immigrant children, the current system Congress put in place "was designed for about 6,000 to 8,000 kids a year — not the numbers we're seeing now."
There is a "humanitarian crisis unfolding across our nation's southern border," as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) puts it.
Responses: Locals bear burden, Boehner forms working group, Obama mulls executive order
Pelosi is traveling to South Texas Detention Facility tomorrow. A bipartisan group led by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) will go to the border next week. What these trips will amount to is yet unkwown, but border patrol certainly doesn't like the bad press: The Nogales Processing Center barred a group of clergy and advocates who accompanied Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to the unsanitary, cramped facility and ordered employees not to take any photographs of the conditions after several leaked.
"The local governments are … looking at some centers in the valley… abandoned buildings where they're going to put fences inside the buildings to create detention cells and just throw people in there," according to Sigifredo Gonzalez, former sheriff of Zapata County, Texas.
CBS reports that "Customs and Border Patrol has been shipping illegal immigrants to facilities all over the country and reportedly are even looking at using an abandoned Walmart in New York." This response, says Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), is unacceptable. "The federal government is trying to force the hardworking taxpayers of New York to foot the bill to house undocumented immigrants. The President's actions have fueled the current crises along the southern border, and now New York residents are being directly impacted by his irresponsible actions."
"About 700 immigrants" will be accommodated in a Border Patrol training academy in Artesia, New Mexico beginning next week.
Although he has "outlined no specific duties," House Speaker John Boehner organized a group of Republican representatives to devise a solution to the crisis and criticized that "the president has allowed a national security and humanitarian crisis to develop on the U.S. southern border. There are two imperatives here: protect those children and secure our border," according to Politico. One week ago Boehner suggested that the president deploy the National Guard.
As far as the Obama administration's plans go, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this week, "We're not just going to sit around and wait interminably for Congress" to make laws. "We've been waiting a year already. The president has tasked his Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson with reviewing what options are available to the president, what is at his disposal using his executive authority to try to address some of the problems that have been created by our broken immigration system." Many fellow Democrats have come out in favor of executive action regarding immigration reform.
Johnson announced a 15-point plan on Tuesday. It includes building more detention facilities as well as launching "public awareness campaigns" in Central America "to communicate the dangers of sending unaccompanied children on the long journey from Central America to the United States."