“It doesn’t matter what (Vice President) Joe Biden or (Homeland Security Secretary) Jeh Johnson say. It’s what the families say that matters.”
There’s an odd rumor going around in parts of Central America that children who cross into the United States illegally will be granted asylum or citizenship. That rumor has resulted in a marked uptick in the number of children crossing the US border from Mexico without any adults along, now estimated at 60,000 this year. Speaking while in Panama yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry made clear that while he has sympathy for the children entering the US illegally, the Administration would not be changing its intended policy for how to deal with them.
“We obviously understand people who want to do better, and who look for a better life,” Kerry said as he met leaders from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries from which tens of thousands of children have fled to the United States in recent months.
“But at the same time, there are rules of law, and there is a process and there is false information that is being spread about benefits that might be available to these young people who are looking for that better life,” he added.
Advocates have repeatedly made the claim that many of these children would qualify for asylum but even President Obama’s plan to detain and then repatriate children who’ve illegally entered the country comes at a cost. The children have to be detained somewhere and they have to be housed and fed for varying lengths of time. There’s also the cost for the court system which ultimately is responsible for ruling on whether to deport a child or grant asylum. In June, President Obama asked Congress for 2 Billion dollars to cover all these costs.
Under current law, children arriving at the border from Central America have a right to an immigration hearing before a judge, but under Obama’s proposed changes, which must be approved by Congress, that would no longer be automatic and instead the kids would have to make their case to a Border Patrol agent, advocates said.
These changes would dramatically reduce the strain on border patrol agents and the immigration enforcement system at large. Still, regardless of the Administration’s intention to increase deportations and despite President Obama’s intent to “redirect federal law enforcement efforts on immigration from interior enforcement to the Southwest border,” for many adults and children crossing into the country illegally, the respite from their previous circumstances is worth it.
“Salvadorans know that kids who make it to the U.S. can stick around for awhile with their families,” said Nick Phillips, who is based in El Salvador and serves a consultant for the Latin American Program at The Wilson Center. “It doesn’t matter what (Vice President) Joe Biden or (Homeland Security Secretary) Jeh Johnson say. It’s what the families say that matters.”