Over the last month, there has been a significant increase of immigrant children attempting to cross into the United States by way of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. With such an increase, hundreds of children have been sent to other southwest states in order to be processed. Once a child has been processed, they are typically released to a relative and are told to report back when it is time for their immigration hearing. However, with such a high number of children needing to go before an immigration judge, the courts are more crowded than ever.
In a recent story posted on The Wall Street Journal's website, the writers take a look at how current immigration cases involving children are being handled. One finding that resulted from their investigation was that many of these children will end up remaining in the U.S. When you look at data from immigration courts and compare that with interviews conducted with undocumented immigrant children and their advocates, you will come to the realization that “few minors are sent home and many are able to stay for years in the U.S., if not permanently.”
So, what does that mean for immigration enforcement and policy? Critics of President Obama's immigration policies were already unhappy with the current administration's stance on the subject, but since the surge in unaccompanied minors attempting to come to the U.S. began, criticism has increased dramatically.
In previous years, there have been a good number of undocumented children who began removal proceedings and an additional group who voluntarily returned home and thus avoided a formal removal order. In fiscal year 2013, there were “3,535 migrant children to be deported” and another 888 opted for voluntary removal.
While those numbers do not appear to be insignificant, they actually are quite small compared with the data collected as to how many children are actually apprehended at the border by Border Patrol agents. Over the last five years, there have been a minimum of 23,000 and a maximum of 47,000 minors apprehended each year. To be clear, these numbers include Mexican children who are not required to receive a formal immigration hearing before being deported. Many of these children are sent home to Mexico shortly after being processed.
There is more than one reason as to why so many of these immigrant children end up staying in the United States. These reasons can include:
(1) Being afforded the legal right to stay in the country;
(2) Having their case get tied up in overwhelmed courts or other administrative proceedings; or
(3) They simply choose not to appear in court for their hearing.
According to reports, last fiscal year, decisions were made by immigration judges in relation to 6,437 child cases. Of those, about two-thirds of the children voluntarily left the U.S. or were ordered to be deported, and others were given legal status. In the remaining cases, judges ended the proceedings. Typically, when this happened, the “child wasn't ordered out of the U.S. but wasn't given explicit permission to stay, either.”