While Capitol Hill mourns the death of immigration reform, a "surge" of thousands of migrants — mostly children — are arriving at our border, straining Border Patrol resources and reminding everyone of the need for immigration reform. Guess no one told them about Eric Cantor's primary loss.
What is 'the surge'?
"The surge" is what immigration advocates and government officials call the rapid increase in the number of undocumented child immigrants from Central America. Between late 2011 and 2013 the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border jumped from under 20,000 to more than 40,000, according to Mother Jones. This year officials expect to apprehend 60,000 children.
Why is this happening now?
There are three factors behind the surge in immigration
- A desire to reunite with family members
- Lenient government policies — child migrants think they'll be allowed to stay if they make it to America.
- Growing violence and instability in Central America
Families reuniting is self-explanatory, but there's been a question over whose lenient government policies are pulling children in. Anti-immigration critics argue that it's President Obama's tactics, including a 2012 program to delay deportation for some minors. The problem is that policy 1) doesn't apply to new immigrants and 2) was enacted after "the surge" began, as Vox explains. The U.S. is more lenient on child migrants because of a 2008 law passed by Congress to fight human trafficking. Regardless, there is a sense that children who get to the U.S. will be allowed to stay.
The Wall Street Journal notes that critics argue the Obama administration's policy of releasing women apprehended with minors into the U.S. while they await deportation proceedings, only exacerbates that problem.
How is the Border Patrol handling this?
Not well. Over the weekend the Border Patrol Union tweeted about #lowmorale, because their job has been reduced to "diaper changing" and "burrito wrapping." Not unrelated, border patrol agents have been accused of physically, verbally and sexually abusing child migrants in their custody. As Vox noted, the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming agents spread a 16-year-old's legs and "touch(ed) her genital area forcefully, making her scream." There have also been unsubstantiated reports of children being punched and run over while being arrested.
What's being done to fix this in the short term?
Texas doesn't have enough detention space to keep the immigrants it detains, which is why some people are being released. Others are being transported to detention centers in states like Arizona. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne wrote the Department of Homeland Security last week to complain about the transfers to his state, arguing that the department is "simply releasing them here ... rather than in Texas," according to The Washington Post. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake called the situation a "humanitarian crisis" and demanded an inspection of the possibly substandard detention centers.
According to The Wall Street Journal, border agencies have ramped up the number of officials in the field, but argue that the sheer number of immigrants is more than they can handle. And to address the problems in Central America, Vice President Joe Biden will meet with officials from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss the surge of child migrants, according to Politico.
What's being done in the long term?
The short answer is nothing. Politicians declared immigration reform dead after Rep. Eric Cantor lost his Republican primary against an anti-immigration Tea Party members. Activists thought that might spur Obama to pass an immigration related executive action, but it didn't. "Our strategy has not changed," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri told the Associated Press last week. "The impetus for action remains on the House." Like we said, the short answer is nothing.
Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security will do the best it can until the House decides to embrace its impetus for action role. "Those apprehended at our border are priorities for removal," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday. He added that the department's efforts are "no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform."