US authorities report a record flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border, a wave that has been escalating since 2011. About 52,000 have arrived since October, about 112% more than the entire prior year, Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said June 20 in a conference call with reporters. Up to 90,000 are expected to come in 2014, according to the White House -- more than twice as many as last year, and three times as many as in 2012. President Barack Obama this month directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to address the "urgent humanitarian situation," and asked Congress for funding. Courts and social-service agencies have been overwhelmed, and guidelines on processing and detention thrown into disarray, Bloomberg reports. "
The kids are making their way north by foot, bus or atop the freight train they call "La Bestia," the beast. They are mostly coming from Central America -- fleeing the terror of narco gangs as well as poverty. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Guatemala June 20 to meet with Central American leaders on the crisis. Proposals inlcude new detention centers in the Central American nations, as well as aid programs for poor communities.
PBS Newshour interviewed an 11-year-old boy identified as "Nodwin," who survived a journey that has killed many adults before joining his parents who were already living in Virginia. He traveled from Honduras to the US border almost entirely by himself. He almost drowned crossing the Rio Grande in an inflatable raft. He said he made the perilous journey because his hometown in Honduras has been overrun by criminal gangs. "Big people force the children to sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them," he told Newshour. Nodwin said he once witnessed a boy his own age gang-raped in a neighborhood park after refusing to join a local drug gang.
Jennifer Podkul of the Women's Refugee Commission, who has interviewed hundreds of children migrants from Central America, painted a grim picture of communities besieged by drug gangs that especially prey on the young. She told Newshour: "They're seeking children of this age, and they're recruiting at schools, they're recruiting at youth centers, they're recruiting and going after children who are participating in youth groups and churches."
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blames the new influx of minors on the Obama administration's "deferred action" policy that bars deportation of undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children -- a point of Republican ire since it was instated two years ago. Boehner is calling for a mass mobilization of National Guard troops to the Mexican border to bar the migrant minors. In an open letter to Obama, he writes: "The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach US soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely. It is our duty and obligation to enforce the laws of our country while protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring they are healthy and well protected. In that vein, your administration should immediately deploy the National Guard to our southern border."
It is unclear how further militarizing the border and making the passage even more dangerous will "protect the most vulnerable." In any case, as NBC News points out, the Obama administration notes that children arriving now are not eligible for the "deferred action" program, and are placed into deportation proceedings when apprehended.