On June 2, 2014, President Obama released a memorandum declaring a “humanitarian situation” at the U.S.-Mexico border resulting from the large influx of unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the U.S. On July 8, Obama requested $3.7 billion from Congress to apprehend, expedite proceedings for and care for these “unaccompanied alien children,” also known as UACs.
While it is encouraging to see Obama finally take action on immigration in contrast to the inability of the House to pass any reforms, the problems at the border continue to grow.
This is unsurprising. The memorandum diminishes the humanity of the children by labeling them as the nebulous “UACs.” No longer immigrants nor refugees nor human beings, they have been branded as something more akin to horror movie invaders of a different species. When referred to in this context, it is hard to imagine justifying $3.7 billion to protect the “alien” immigrants that are “invading” the country.
In fact, this dehumanization of the immigrant children fleeing the unspeakable violence in their home countries in Central America has been exacerbated by violent protests and riots in border towns. Protesters have been lining up at border towns just to threaten and accost the incoming refugees. “It’s not my problem,” some say. Why should we have to pay anything?” others say. Even lawmakers such as Tom Wassa (Michigan) claim that the children “have known diseases and gang affiliations” that will infiltrate into and infect the United States — even going so far as to call Obama a “domestic terrorist” because he is creating an atmosphere of fear by letting new immigrants in. News reports over the past two months have shown the abounding not-so-subtle campaigns to evade the responsibility of taking in the children as refugees.
However, this inflow of immigrant children is nothing new. The numbers of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. from Central American countries has been dramatically increasing since 2011. Increased incentives from hopes of relief through DACA (Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act) are not to blame because the growing number of child arrivals began long before DACA was even created. Nor can we blame a declining quality of border security, as the resources put into the border have only been increasing over time. The real issue is the extreme violence that these children and their families face in their home countries. The huge numbers of children are coming from the countries and towns that have the highest homicide rates in the world. It is not simply that children find it enticing to come to the U.S., but it is also still a better option to endure the incredible risks they face attempting to cross the border than to fall victim to the violence in their home countries.
So what can be done? Right now, there is a push for expedited proceedings for recent arrivals with the help of a significant increase in immigration judges and additional authority for the Department of Homeland Security to exercise discretion in processing the deportations of the newly arriving children.
More resources to help get through increasingly backlogged immigration courts all over the country are extremely necessary. But the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution guarantee due process and equal protections to all persons — regardless of citizenship. The pressure to speed up the court cases is making the hearings hasty at best, and at worst, a complete mockery of our so-called “fair and just” court system. Yes, the quickened pace of deportation proceedings is placating some of the loudest critics of the current immigration predicament, but at what cost?
For one, cramming a court case into a two-week window after an immigrant’s arrival substantially hinders his or her ability to find representation in court. And navigating the labyrinth of the U.S. legal system as a refugee and through a language barrier without the guidance of an attorney to find the available relief options is almost inconceivable. Nonprofit immigration law organizations such as Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto have helped many people attain legal relief here, but resources are still very limited as more and more children are seeking help in a very restricted amount of time. The immigration courts should not settle for sacrificing accuracy for expediency, especially when someone’s life could be on the line.
What the country and the immigration system need now is a dose of humanity. This is a humanitarian crisis, not an immigration crisis, and we must treat it as such. Incoming children must be first provided the care and resources they need and deserve instead of being rushed into the tumultuous court system with the goal of being deported as quickly as possible to a place where the U.S. government no longer has responsibility over them. In order to embrace immigration reform, we must first redefine how we see, hear and communicate about the situation. These are children, not “aliens,” and they are seeking refuge, not an “invasion.” America must uphold its promise of liberty and freedom for those “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and help provide relief, not more obstacles, for incoming refugees — no matter where they are from.
Contact Aimee Trujillo at email@example.com.