A conference call on July 7, 2014, sponsored by the Washington Office on Latin America, the national office of the ACLU, and other organizations provided information on the current crisis. As reported in the media, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children who are arriving at the U.S. border in Texas seeking safety in the United States. Far from trying to hide from the Border Patrol, they often just walk up to the officers and turn themselves in. A system designed to process some 8000 kids a year has had to cope with 52,000 just since October of 2013. The speakers anticipate there may be as many as 90,000 by the end of 2014.
This is a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. The conference speakers pointed out that in the three countries from which most of the children are coming, the homicide rate is the highest in the world–up to 20 to 25% higher than in the United States. Drug trafficking is a major factor–but drug consumption is much smaller than in the U.S.
The Obama administration is asking for $2 – $3 billion to address the crisis. The speakers felt that a miniscule 10% of that will go to address the root causes. The focus is on closing not only the U.S. border, but also the Guatemala/Mexico border, and on returning the children and reintegrating them into societies that are already so dangerous and so poverty-stricken that they and their families were forced to flee.
Although U.S. citizens are justifiably alarmed at the prospect of children being placed in warehouse-type buildings on U.S. military bases, the speakers testified that these are doing a good job of keeping the children safe, well-fed, housed, and cared for–much better than the Border Patrol stations where they are first placed which are not prepared for these demands. There is already an emphasis on uniting them with families as quickly as possible–although the rumor that they will be allowed to stay is spreading false hope. Most–about 90%–have some family here to whom they are being released.
The speakers emphasized that we must deal with the immediate situation as well as work towards long-term solutions. The discussion is presently being dominated by right-wing anti-immigrant and anti-Obama groups. Those who understand both the complexity and the long-term causes of the problem must communicate this knowledge as widely as possible.
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