While the great immigration debate rages on — and stalls any meaningful progress — there is one group that deserves immediate attention: the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the border — children who made the dangerous trek all alone to reunite with family, escape violence and simply live a better life.
Current policy dictates detention and deportation, continuing the long-standing tradition of skirting the root issue of undocumented immigration. While most minors are quickly screened to make sure they aren’t victims of trafficking, most are still simply detained and shipped back to their home country, effectively putting them back in the conditions they risked their life to escape.
Research suggests several reasons for many of the unaccompanied minors at the border: escalating violence and abject poverty at home, family reunification and sometimes human trafficking. While these conditions are not universal, the 700% jump in asylum applications in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Brazil speaks to the need for some sort of intervention — both here and abroad.
While our current answer is detain and deport children, talk of better solutions quickly gets mired in uninformed, politically-motivated immigration arguments. Moderate Republicans have only just started to take immigration seriously — when they realized the issue is key to successful elections. Even President Obama’s move from deporting young “Dreamers” is only a small step in the right direction among many steps in the wrong direction.
Obama has even noted that undocumented immigration is an “urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response…” but both the President and Congress continue to delegate the responsibility to local law enforcement while they bicker and fight amongst themselves. Allowing Dreamers to stay helps, but deporting parents of young citizens and separating other family members hurts much more than it helps.
Acknowledging the root issues behind youth immigration is the direction we should be heading. Instead of simply returning youth to poverty and violence, or keeping families separated, we should help them live safely and offer the opportunity to contribute to our economy – helping them create and maintain meaningful ties to the country legally.