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Despite Surge in Child Immigrants, US Immigration Reform Stalls

  • Cindy Saine

FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo shows children detainees sleeping in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas.

FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo shows children detainees sleeping in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas.

A year after the United States Senate passed comprehensive immigration legislation, a leading Democratic advocate for reform says efforts to get similar laws passed in the House of Representatives have failed and he is giving up.

Debate on the issue now focuses on a surge of unaccompanied children from Central America coming into the United States, with lawmakers from both parties blaming each other for the crisis.

Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez has been trying for months to get House Republicans to sit down with Democrats to agree on immigration reform legislation. Republicans say they cannot trust President Barack Obama to enforce current laws, however, and have not allowed a vote.

Gutierrez this week took to the House floor, and said he is giving Republicans a red card.

"First of all your chance to play a role in how immigration and deportation policies are carried out this year is over. Having been given ample time and space to craft legislation, you failed,” he said.

Unlikely passage

Many analysts say there is little chance of immigration reform getting through this year.

“I think especially for the rest of this year with the midterm elections coming up, the chances are incredibly slim of them actually taking action. But the topic is not going to go away and the debate is not going to go away by any means,” said Emily Ethridge, with the congressional news and analysis outlet CQ-Roll Call.

Now, however, congressional anger is flaring in response to a surge of 52,000 children from Central America who have made the journey through Mexico to illegally enter the United States. The children are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and they are filling holding centers along the border with Mexico.

Republicans blame President Obama for the flow, because of what they consider lenient immigration policies.

“It is for President Obama to make a public appearance to walk back his continued flouting of U.S. immigration and border security policy, and tell the world that the United States will protect its borders, while discouraging families from risking their lives and the lives of their children unnecessarily,” said Republican Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona.

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said he has a message for parents in Central America: "do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they may [or] may not make it.”

Human smugglers

Political analysts say desperate parents in the three violence-plagued Central American countries often pay smuggling rings to transport their children in buses or on top of trains to the U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree that human smugglers and drug cartels are spreading misinformation by saying the children will be given permission to stay.

Democrats blamed House Republicans for the crisis because they have not allowed a vote on immigration reform.

“The fact is that if we had passed either the Senate or the House bill, there were resources for both border security, international cooperation and it would have outlined a path for clear legal migration to this country,” said Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro.

Both sides agree that the plight of children, many of them girls under the age of 13, arriving alone, exhausted and hungry at the U.S. border is a humanitarian crisis.

Emily Ethridge said Congress is likely to appropriate more money for the U.S. border control authorities to help the children.

“So the amount of money that the administration needs to find these children, apprehend them, put them in shelters, take care of them, put them through legal proceedings - they just need way more money. And so Congress is definitely going to give more money for that," Ethridge said.

Unaccompanied children from Central America are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, and given a court date to decide their fate. Many of the children end up being reunited with family members already in the United States, but some are deported.

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