Children escaping gang violence in Central America are entering the United States illegally in record numbers — almost double, year-on-year.
More than 52,000 have been arrested since last October, at the border with Mexico. The majority are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and most were unaccompanied by their parents.
Deportation awaits illegals of any age. But US law says minors must be placed with sponsors in the country, usually family, till their cases are heard. It can take months to years to get an immigration court hearing.
President Obama has asked Congress for extra crisis funding. Calls are growing in the House of Representatives to halt US foreign aid to the children’s countries of origin till they act to hold back the flood.
US Border Patrols are struggling to deal with the children humanely. Immigration opponents are furious, notably along the Mexican border. Some California residents have blocked Homeland Security buses carrying kids to shelter.
Protester Cynthia Daum said: “Close our borders! There are borders for a reason! If Mexico was the United States there wouldn’t be any borders but Mexico is not part of the United States! Mexico is their own country and our borders need to be closed!”
Facing off against the antis are the supporters of Obama’s promises to regularise some immigrants’ status.
Mexican-American singer Lupillo Rivera said: “Closing the borders is bad because the Latinos are not the only illegal people! The Chinese, the Americans, the Africans, the Canadians, the Europeans, there are all sorts of illegal people! There aren’t any legal people here in the United States! We are all illegal! The only legal people are the native Americans because this is their country and it was stolen from them!”
The journey from Central America through Mexico is already dangerous, and the youngsters also risk abuse at the hands of traffickers.
A 17-year-old Honduran, Santos Josue Hernandez, said: “People always try to scare you saying that on the trip you will be assaulted or kidnapped. That didn’t happen to me because I travel with the faith that God is going to help me, and that he’s going to protect me on my journey.”
Seeking more judges and detention facilities, the Obama administration wants new emergency powers to fast-track deportation processing to a matter of days, for tens of thousands of unprotected children.