Washington, D.C. – As the White House struggles to deal with the crisis at the Southern Border, some lawmakers have suggested amending a law that gave unaccompanied minors the opportunity to seek asylum before they are deported.
At the heart of the matter is 2008 law, signed by President George W. Bush, which protects child immigrants from “non-contiguous” countries from immediate deportation. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, minors from Canada and Mexico—contiguous countries—are screened by Border Patrol agents to determine if they face credible danger or persecution should they return their native countries. If an agent doesn’t find their claims credible, they can be immediately deported.
The however allows young immigrants from other countries to ask for asylum and appear before an immigration judge to determine if they meet the limited criteria for this status. These immigrants are not immediately deported. The law states young immigrants must be turned over the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours, and the agency is encouraged to retain immigration attorneys for them so their asylum claims can be heard by a judge.
Fox News Latino notes that the law was enacted at a time when an average of only 8,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border into the U.S. Since last October, 57,000 minors from Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have flooded the Southern Borders. The law, Fox points out, was beneficial when only a few unaccompanied minors were entering the country with asylum claims.
With such a massive influx, many of these unaccompanied minors are being housed in makeshift shelters fashioned out of abandoned federal buildings. Some are being put up in hotels and others are being shipped to other states where they will be given shelter or released into the custody of relatives living in the U.S.
Housing and feeding these young immigrants can be costly and asylum cases can take years to wind through immigration courts so lawmakers are seeking solutions to the crisis. They also want to send a clear message to other families in Central American countries that their children won’t be able to stay in the U.S. after making the treacherous journey north. Many think amending the law is one way to get that message across.
According to Arizona Central, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake recently introduced an amendment that would allow immigration agents to immediately deport undocumented children from the country without an asylum hearing. They would essentially be treated the same as immigrants from Canada or Mexico.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) and Sen. John Cornyn, (R), both from Texas are calling for expedited immigration hearings for children with asylum claims or who are victims of human trafficking, Arizona Central reported.
President Obama has asked for more leeway to deal with the influx or child immigrants which includes the power to immediately deport some children. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he approved of amending the 2008 law.
But many Democratic lawmaker, immigration advocates and religious leaders say a change to the law is not necessary. And believe these young immigrants, many of whom are fleeing drug and gang violence in their home countries, deserve the opportunity to argue their case for asylum in court with the help of an immigration attorney.