LOS ANGELES - Immigrant rights groups are questioning the treatment of undocumented migrants, including many children being held in detention in the Southwestern United States. Others are demanding an end to illegal immigration, with protesters in California on Tuesday blocking busloads of migrants being transported for processing. Demands are rising for Washington to fix the problem.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children are among the illegal migrants detained since October while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. President Barack Obama has called it a humanitarian crisis.
On Tuesday, protesters angry with the influx of immigrants blocked three busloads of detainees, including families and children, en route to a Border Patrol processing center in Southern California. “Go back!” they shouted.
Thursday in Los Angeles, Latin American immigrants met outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles to urge Mexico and the United States to safeguard the rights of families and children.
“Please, both governments,” said Saladoran-American activist Isabel Cardenas, “… make sure that these children are protected.”
Two undocumented immigrants, over 18 and classified as adults, took part in a news conference to describe their three months in custody at a privately run detention center in San Diego. Released and awaiting hearings on their immigration status, they met with reporters at the offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
One is Yordi Cancino, 21, who graduated from high school in the United States and whose mother still lives in Los Angeles. Immigration officers urged him to sign papers submitting to deportation, he said.
“I even told the officer, 'Hey, let me read that paper. I'm not going to sign something that I really don't know what it's about,'” Cancino recalled. “She said, 'Oh no, sign this paper. Your process is going to be fast, and everything will be perfectly fine.' I said, 'If you're not letting me read in reality what I'm signing, I'm not going to sign.'”
Activists say they wonder who will protect the rights of minors now in custody.
“If adults are being yelled at and insulted on a daily basis, that just is par for the course on how they're going to treat young people,” said Xiomara Corpeno, an activist with the Los Angeles coalition.
U.S. officials say they are doing their best to ensure proper treatment for the young people and families awaiting asylum hearings. Most of the young migrants come from Central America and may be placed with relatives in the United States temporarily. But many are likely eventually to be deported.
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $2 billion to deal with the crisis, and he says comprehensive immigration reform is the only long-term solution. House Republican leader John Boehner says that will not happen this year and says Republicans want more security on the border.