Religion & Liberty Online

Explainer: What You Should Know About the Border Crisis

children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?

In the case of UACs, Section 235 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, as amended, could be said to implicitly authorize UACs to enter the United States. UACs from Canada and Mexico who are determined to be inadmissible (e.g., for lack of proper documentation) may be permitted to withdraw their application for admission and be returned to their home country, subject to certain conditions. UACs from other countries, in contrast, are not subject to such treatment, but are instead required to be transferred to the custody of the Secretary of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of being determined to be UACs. Other provisions of law could also be construed to permit UACs to enter the United States.

Some UACs could potentially be found to be eligible for asylum as a result of gang-related violence in their home countries, although the existence of such violence is not, in itself, a basis for asylum.

Who is responsible for the minors while they are in the U.S.?

Several agencies in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) share responsibilities for the processing, treatment, and placement of UAC. DHS Customs and Border Protection apprehends and detains UAC arrested at the border while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handles the transfer and repatriation responsibilities. ICE also apprehends UAC in the interior of the country and is responsible for representing the government in removal proceedings. HHS is responsible for coordinating and implementing the care and placement of UAC in appropriate custody.

What caused the problem?

As with most political issues, the blame for the problem is divided along partisan lines. Supporters of President Obama say the increase is because of violence in the home countries of the UAC or because they are attempting to reunite with parents or relatives already living in the U.S.

Critics of the president, however, say the problem has been exacerbated by two Obama administration policies:

(1) The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) which would allow certain unlawfully present aliens to adjust to a lawful immigration status. The bill was passed by the Senate in 2013, but rejected by the House. Still, some critics believe it has increased illegal immigration because foreigners believe it will eventually pass.
(2) The administrative policy entitled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants certain aliens who arrived in the United States prior to a certain period as children some protection from removal for at least two years.

What is being done about the problem?

The president appointed the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead the government’s response and asked Congress for $1.4 billion in extra funding to help house, feed and transport child migrants. The Defense Department also opened several bases for temporary housing of the minors.

All current efforts are focused on responding to the immediate crisis. No long-term solution has yet been proposed since no one knows exactly what caused the spike in UAC or whether it will continue in the future.


Other posts in this series:

What’s Going on in Iraq? • EPA’s Proposed New Climate Rule • VA Scandal • What is Going on in Vietnam? • Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Christian Girls • The Supreme Court’s Ruling on Government Prayer • Earth Day? • Holy Week? • What’s Going On in Crimea? • What Just Happened with Russia and Ukraine? • What’s Going on in Ukraine • Jobs Report • The Hobby Lobby Amicus Briefs • Net Neutrality? • Common Core? • What’s Going on in Syria? • What’s Going on in Egypt?

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).