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Central American Children Fleeing Gangs and Poverty Touch Off Debate

The United States has started to return groups of young Central American migrants who have crossed into the country illegally. More than 60,000 children have come into the US since October of last year, an increase of 400% since the year before.

Since October of last year, 60,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed into the U.S. Administration officials estimate 90,000 children will have arrived by the end of this September.

People who are familiar with the backgrounds of these children say this is not a migration problem, but a refugee problem.

“These are not refugees. This is a big time scam,” said Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a group opposing illegal immigration. “There are some problems there with violence; there’s ways to fix that. Not just come up to the United States and run away from it.”

But as Central American countries struggle to overcome gangs and poverty, the children keep coming.

A 2008 law allows Central American children to stay until they get a court hearing, instead of being deported immediately. Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) said the law's original intent was to protect children who were being trafficked.

“Unfortunately now, that law is being used as a loophole -- it is being advertised as a means into the United States. Really, it’s the driver of mass migration from Central America,” said Dane.

Once the children arrive, the law allows them to be housed in detention centers then placed with family members until their court hearing.

Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute wants the law changed.

“What it’s not doing is allowing for a quick settlement, a quick resolution and deportation of kids who are not eligible for a visa. So the fix would be to speed up that hearing process,” said Rosenblum.

Those hearings can take up to two years. For now, children that have arrived will have to wait.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp