What do we owe the enormous numbers of children who have crossed our borders illegally in the last couple of months from various countries in Central America? We certainly owe it to them to not kill, starve, beat, or otherwise harm them while they’re here. But beyond that? Nothing but a speedy and safe trip back home.
It would solve a host of problems and be cost-effective too, and it’s a good bet that, as soon as the word got out in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (and you can also bet that the word would get out very quickly) of what’s happening here, the sudden flood of immigrants would magically slow to a tiny trickle.
But it won’t be done. And the reason is that neither political party has the will to do it. And what of the will of the American people — not that anyone in government cares? It’s hard to discover, because there’s a paucity of polls that specifically address the issue of the recent crisis. Most of the older polls on the subject of illegal immigration have to do with the children of immigrants who came here illegally with their parents years ago, a sort of grandfathering-in (grandchildrening-in?) of a phenomenon that people feel was already a fait accompli.
The current situation is unique from previous ones in that, at least in logistical terms, it would be an easier task to transport the children and families who have recently entered illegally back to their home countries. Unlike in the past, the new arrivals are not trying to evade capture, but are instead giving themselves up voluntarily and therefore the vast majority have been put in custody from the outset. We are already paying a great deal of money to house them and provide them with all sorts of services, and therefore it most likely would cost less rather than more to send them home.
So, what’s the problem with doing just that (in addition, of course, to the fact that the current administration and much of Congress would be against it)? Here’s the catch:
U.S. law requires that these children be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which works to find family or friends in the U.S. until their deportation cases are processed.
The operative law is Section 462 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. And how have those deportation cases ordinarily been “processed”? Very, very slowly. In fact, all those children and families currently streaming across the border with the perception that they can stay here are not misguided at all; they are correct. Here’s the way it currently works [emphasis mine]:
…[M]ost [children who come here illegally and are apprehended] spend about one month in the custody of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement under the Health and Human Services Department, before they are reunited with parents or other relatives in the United States. There is no requirement that their parents or those other relatives were legally allowed into the United States.
All the young immigrants who cross the border illegally are subject to deportation eventually. But it’s not a quick process.
The immigration court system was backlogged with as many as 30,000 pending cases before the most recent surge.
Court delays that already persist for years will grow even longer as the beleaguered system absorbs the cases for the new children immigrants. That will make the risk of speedy deportation even less likely and further fuel perceptions that crossing the U.S. border carries few immediate consequences.