The dramatic escalation in the movement of undocumented unaccompanied immigrant children* at the U.S. Southern Border in recent years is a regional humanitarian crisis born from the rapid growth in crime, violence and poverty that has impacted Mexico and Central America. As the largest country in the region, with the most developed asylum and humanitarian protection regime, the United States is being disproportionally impacted by this humanitarian crisis impacting the entire Central American region. In response to this escalation, President Barack Obama requested a $3.7 billion supplemental appropriation to fund activities of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), State (DOS), and Health and Human Services (HHS) related to the new arrivals, including substantial numbers of unaccompanied children at the U.S. Southern Border. In its request to Congress, the administration said the money would be used for four main efforts:
- deterrence, including increased detentions and removals of adults with children and increased immigration court capacity to speed cases;
- enforcement, including enhanced interdiction and prosecution of criminal networks, increased surveillance, and expanded collaborative law enforcement task force activities;
- foreign cooperation, including improved repatriation and reintegration, stepped-up public information campaigns, and efforts to address the root causes of undocumented migration; and
- capacity, including increased detention, care, and transportation of unaccompanied children.
In determining what should be done to stem the tide of unaccompanied immigrant children traveling to the U.S., the White House has requested additional staffing for U.S. immigration courts, both an increase in the number of judges and improvement of courtroom facilities. As noted in our previous article on immigration courts, there has been a staffing crisis even before the escalation of unaccompanied children entering the US seeking asylum began.
The White House funding request would provide financial support for direct legal representation services to children in immigration proceedings, the subject of a current lawsuit by various immigration advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. Immigration advocates urge that despite the additional burdens this humanitarian crisis may entail, that we cannot compromise our fundamental principles of compassion, fairness, and due process, nor on our international refugee protection obligations. We urge Congress to allocate the funding needed to support these important programs for a very vulnerable population of unaccompanied immigrant children.