In a press call in advance of Vice President Biden’s trip to Guatemala tomorrow, immigration activist Wendy Young admitted that no one knows how many of the tens of thousands of underage immigrants being apprehended along the southern border are being released into the United States.
Child migration to the US has been on the rise since 2012, but spiked dramatically this year, with US Customs and Border Protection reporting a 92% increase in apprehensions of “unaccompanied alien children” between the 2013 fiscal year and just the first eight months of the 2014 fiscal year. Michelle Brané, director of Migrant Rights and Justice, said that “we are on track to see 90 thousand or more arrive at the southern border” by the end of this fiscal year in September. The minors are coming predominantly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Catholic Relief Services Representative in Honduras Juan Sheenan attributed the dramatic increase to worsening gang violence in these countries, noting that Honduras has the highest number of homicides per capita in the world, at a rate of 90 murders per 100,000 people. El Salvador and Guatemala have the fourth and fifth highest, at 41 and 39 murders per 100,000 people respectively, according to a 2012 UN Office on Drugs and Crime report.
Some have suggested, however, that they are instead lured by knowledge that they can’t be immediately sent back, as US policy prohibits turning away underage immigrants at the border. Because the immigration courts are so backlogged, it often takes years before cases are heard.
“I’m not going to tell you that clogged immigration courts aren’t a problem,” said Young, president of advocacy organization Kids In Need of Defense. “They certainly are, and for any case of a child that is adjudicated in the courts that does mean that their case, like others may be in the backlog, could take quite some time.” Young estimated that 50% of the immigrants may be eligible for release into the United States. (RELATED: Leaked Docs: Here’s What DHS Is Doing With All Those Illegal Immigrant Children)
Once inside the US they are sent to one of several new shelters the Department of Health and Human Services has had to set up to deal with the influx, where they remain until a relative or other sponsor can be found to care for them while they await their court date.
While the stated intent of Vice President Biden’s trip is to discourage such immigration, one aide has suggested that the administration is unconcerned with the situation, saying “Anytime the administration sends Joe Biden to solve a problem, it’s clear evidence that the administration doesn’t see it as a problem worth solving. … The president is sending Biden as a symbolic gesture to show they care about the border flow, whereas in reality their primary goal is to increase the flow.” (RELATED: Obama Dispatches Biden To Stop Wave Of Illegals Into Texas)