Sister Pat McDermott, president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
Sister Pat McDermott, president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

McALLEN, RGV – Currently, two misconceptions are being cited in the media and by politicians.

Either that border security is too lax or that President Obama’s executive action on behalf of Dreamers encourages parents to send their children to the United States. Both of these claims are wrong and need to be corrected immediately.

Border Security: Since 2007, the rate of prosecution for “illegal entry” into the United States has sharply increased by 130 percent. Currently, the federal government spends $18 billion on border security, more than on any other federal law enforcement agency or program. Plus, the size of the U.S. Border Patrol has doubled since 2005 and quintupled since 2993. Today there are more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents guarding the U.S. border.

President Obama’s DACA program: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was implemented in 2012 and requires the beneficiaries to have lived in the U.S. since 2007. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees’ (UNHCR) report entitled Children on the Run determined that unaccompanied minors are not coming because they believe they will get amnesty or a “free pass” from the U.S. government. UNHCR interviewed 404 children for two hours each to identify their motivations for leaving their countries. Violence, economic necessity and family reunification were the reasons they risked the journey.

What happens when these children are apprehended at the border?

When apprehended by Border Patrol, these children are processes and sent to a Customs and Border Protection facility for up to 72 hours. At that time they are transferred to the Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They are held at an ORR facility for 14 to 30 days, until arrangements can be made to have them released to a relative or legal guardian. Right now85 to 90 percent of these children are being released to family members or caretakers with notices to appear in court.

Reuniting a child with her or his family is in the interest of the U.S. government and the welfare of the child. It saves the U.S. money on caring for this child before the court hearing and it is a safer/healthier situation for the child.

It is important to note that upon entering the U.S. these children are put into the deportation process. They will be required to show up for court and there is no guarantee that they will be able to stay in the United States. In order for custody to be transferred over to a family member or legal guardian, the U.S. government ensures they have the correct address where the child will be staying.

Granted this is an unparalleled crisis, but other immigration-related alternatives to detention programs have upheld a great record of people showing up for their legal proceedings.

How does this relate to the debate for immigration reform?

There is a real danger of conflating both issues. While the U.S. desperately needs comprehensive immigration reform to bring relief to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, the situation with these children is a humanitarian crisis. The United States is not alone in seeing this spike in refugees. There is a 720 percent increase in asylum claims in both Nicaragua and Belize, as people flee violence in the Northern Triangle. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees found that 58 percent of these youth coming to the United States qualify for specific international protection due to their legitimate claim of fear and violence.

How can we solve this problem?

Unfortunately, there are no short-term solutions. It would be in the interest of the United States to reassess our engagement in the Northern Triangle countries. The violence and extreme poverty in the region has direct connections to the U.S. trade policy, the War on Drugs and our broken immigration system. These issues must be addressed in Congress; otherwise the crisis will continue to spiral out of control.

What can you do?

The Sisters of Mercy’s Institute Leadership Team has made addressing this humanitarian crisis a top priority. Additional educational resources, advocacy options and information on how to help the unaccompanied children migrants in your local communities have been shared with Community Justice Coordinators. Contact them to find out how you can become more engaged on this issue.

Ryan Murphy works for the Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team. He can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the where the Sisters of Mercy charity group stands on undocumented children fleeing Central America.