The Littlest Aliens

Border Wall

Immigration policy remains a topic for heated debate, but what most people don't know is that thousands of "unaccompanied alien children" attempt to enter the United States every year. Officials have seen a surge in the number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally over the past few years. The federal government recently released statistics showing that an increase from an average of 6,775 children intercepted yearly by the Department of Homeland Security prior to 2012 to an astounding 24,668 this year.

Chris Crane, who heads The National ICE Council immigration officer union, said agents are being "overrun" with children crossing the border.

"We can't keep up with it," he said.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, most of the minors come from Central America -- largely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Some critics of current immigration policy blame the surge in underage aliens on Obama administration policies like 2012's DREAM Act, which granted asylum to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. Though new immigrants do not fall under such legislation, critics hold that such policies encourage more Mexican and Central American families to send children across the border.

Children who can demonstrate abuse or abandonment can petition for legal status, and non-profit organizations exist to help such minors. But most children wind up in federally-funded child care centers, while federal officials reunite some children with their families - who are also in the country illegally.

Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in Texas, says that the practice of reuniting children happens far too often:

He accused the government of effectively aiding the drug cartels which play a big role in human smuggling rings and claimed the practice is "encouraging" more smuggling.

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Hanen wrote that his court is "not blind to the needs of a minor child," and recognizes the right of prosecutors to use their "discretion" in such cases.

However, he wrote, "those who hear that they should not fear prosecution or deportation will not hesitate, and obviously have not hesitated, to [violate immigration law]."

Regardless of the reason for the influx of children crossing the border, politicians and pundits on both sides of the immigration debate should address the littlest aliens and devise a workable solution for their plight.