What is happening with migrant children in the US?

By: Sydney Joa, 10th Grade

As the Biden administration places efforts in establishing a humane response to unauthorized immigration, there has been a rise in the number of migrant unaccompanied children arriving at the southwest border of the United States in recent weeks. Despite turning away families and single adults due to a pandemic health order, the administration has been accepting unaccompanied children. However, due to the spike in numbers, kids are forced to stay in overcrowded government-run facilities while officials scramble to find ways to house them all.

To start, why are migrant children going to the United States? The damage left behind by two major hurricanes last year, the general toll of the coronavirus pandemic, and because it’s the end of the rainy season in Central America are all contributing to the sudden rise in children entering the US alone. Essentially, most of the children are fleeing precarious conditions in their home countries and as a result, the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agents are holding over 13,000 unaccompanied children in custody. This pales in comparison to the number reported at the beginning of March this year which was said to be less than 3,200 kids. Furthermore, some wonder whether the children are really unaccompanied, but the reality is that though some do cross alone, most are traveling with other relatives but are split apart by the CBP at the border due to the pandemic health order known as Title 42, which was established during former President Trump’s term.

According to the protocol and law, when the kids arrive at the border, they should be transferred out of CBP custody into shelters run by the HHS within 72 hours. However, because of the current spike and limited shelter space, children are stuck in overcrowded detention centers for longer periods of time, usually averaging 120 hours. What’s most concerning is that despite CBP facilities not being open to the public, lawyers who represent children in these facilities have found the conditions to be “vastly over capacity” especially now with the pandemic. It is said that kids aren’t given proper access to food or soap and that they’re sleeping on metal benches or the floor with paper-thin foil blankets as their only source of warmth. 

Another point worth noting is that many children arrive at the border with the contact information of a relative that resides in the US, hoping to join their families after being processed through. Advocates say they should be immediately transferred to their care. But with the increased delay, children are forced to spend more time in detention centers with unsafe conditions. Moreover, hundreds of foster families have stepped in and taken on the responsibility of providing short-term care for migrant children. 

With all of these issues comes a lot of criticism from many groups and organizations towards the Biden administration. Republicans are blaming Biden and Democrats are concerned about conditions and long duration in the centers. Some have started to compare the current situation with that of former President Trump’s term. However, the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has dismissed such comparisons as “absolutely inaccurate” because they have the children’s “best interests” at heart. 

Nevertheless, President Biden is working on rolling back some of Trump’s policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocol which required migrants to wait in Mexico for US immigration hearings. Additionally, the Biden administration is setting up more facilities to shelter the minors in Arizona and Texas and they should be ready “by next month.” They’re also establishing reception centers with the purpose of rapidly processing migrant children and families within the 72-hour mark. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also been deployed to help shelter children. In the long-run, President Biden is creating programs that “allow Central Americans to apply for refugee status in the United States from their home countries and improve conditions in those countries” as stated by Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg from Reuters. President Biden has also vowed to push for $4 billion in US funding for Central America to counter the factors that cause migration.

Furthermore, last week the House of Representatives passed two proposals that will establish pathways to citizenship or legal status for an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, including those who may have been brought unlawfully to the country as children and farmworkers. The American Dream and Promise Act passed by a vote of 228-197, backed by nine Republicans, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed by a vote of 257-174, backed by thirty Republicans. These bills are the Democrats’ best hope for passing immigration reform, and they not only create a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients but will also provide access to reduced in-state education fees for approximately 2.5 million immigrant students.  

The bottom line is that thousands of children are still waiting to be transferred out of border facilities and HHS custody. President Biden was left with a broken immigration system with its negative effects becoming increasingly evident especially on the kids. While the bills passed mark the beginning of a system trying to be fixed, until it is properly and thoroughly worked out, things are going to be difficult for the migrant children and families. 

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