There is a crisis at the border. Over the last several weeks, there has been a significant increase in unaccompanied immigrant children who have attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. These children are coming from both Mexico and Central America. However, only the children from Mexico are legally allowed to be deported quickly and without an immigration hearing.
As a recent story published on CNN.com reminds us, President George W. Bush signed a law in 2008 requiring immigration hearings for children from countries other than Mexico or Canada. This law is now causing some issues in the immigration enforcement arena. The law was passed near the end of Bush's term and there was little opposition at the time. The law was meant to “protect immigrant children from sex traffickers trying to bring them to the United States.”
Now, in 2014, the law, which is called the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act is ultimately contributing to the increase of unaccompanied immigrant children traveling from Central America. So, does the law need to be changed? If it does get revised, would that stir up additional issues?
To begin with, how did this law, one aimed at protecting those from sex trafficking, contribute to the current border crisis? Let's first look into the circumstances surrounding this law at the time:
- President Bush signed it one month before he left office.
- It was required that children who qualify under the law would receive a “full immigration hearing” to determine if there was a legitimate claim for asylum.
At first blush, the law seems pretty straight forward. However, a problem begins to arise once it becomes clear how crowded and overwhelmed immigration courts are. It can take several months, or even years for the child to have a hearing. While these children wait for that date, they are often released into the custody of family members. In the meantime, they attend school and build relationships in the U.S. In some cases, the child never shows up for his or her court date. It is this reality that led some families in Central America to consider this an opportunity for their child to live in the U.S. for an uncertain amount of time, where it is safe, and also get a good education.
The next question many people would ask is why it takes so long for a child to have an immigration hearing. The simple answer is that courts are overburdened. But what does that really mean? There is simply not enough funding to have any kind of efficiency in this area. From the years 2002-2013, “Congress increased spending on immigration enforcement by 300%, compared with a 70% increase for the immigration courts,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications and public affairs at the Migration Policy Institute.
So, is it possible to revise the 2008 law and help curb this crisis? Maybe. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, both from Texas, suggested that required immigration hearings should cease, but a child could request one and if so, it would have to be held within 72 hours.
What do you think about this suggestion? Have you heard of others?