Politics & Policy

Kids Without Borders

A program to help illegal-immigrant children seems to be attracting many more of them.

The Obama administration is taking steps to solve the “urgent humanitarian situation” of a spike in illegal immigration among unaccompanied children, but doing so may only exacerbate the problem.

Earlier this month, in a presidential memorandum, President Obama called for a coordinated federal effort to address the crisis, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Late last week the Department of Justice announced a strategic partnership with AmeriCorps, a federal program that facilitates volunteering, to provide legal representation for illegal-immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“With the launch of justice AmeriCorps, we’re taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement on Friday. “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings — many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking — goes to the core of who we are as a nation.”

The project seeks 100 attorneys and paralegals to help children navigate the immigration system and make claims for protection if they are eligible, according to the Washington Times. The number of illegal-immigrant children the “justice AmeriCorps” program seeks to serve is staggering, and constantly growing.

In fiscal year 2012, fewer than 14,000 children were designated as unaccompanied alien children, according to a Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet. This fiscal year, federal officials expect that number to exceed 90,000, according to a memo from a Border Patrol official obtained by the New York Times.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action that President Obama took in 2012 allows some minors to defer deportation for two years, and this may have served as a magnet for the illegal-immigrant children. The “justice AmeriCorps” program could attract more illegal immigrant children in the future, as word spreads south. And it’s not just the unaccompanied children themselves who would benefit from this program, but also parents who are already living illegally inside the United States.

A spokesperson for Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) explains that an August 2013 executive immigration order provides consideration of amnesty for the parents of minors who come to the United States. The order states, “ICE personnel should ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt the parental rights of both alien parents or legal guardians of minor children.” This policy helps protect illegal immigrants from deportation, if such illegal immigrants claim custody of children. As the rate of unaccompanied minors allowed into the country grows, then, so could the number of parents and guardians protected from deportation. But the spokesperson says it’s not a complicated problem to fix:

“The president needs to hold a press conference tomorrow, broadcast to the world, and say, ‘The border is closed. If you come here illegally you’ll be turned away. You will not be allowed into the United States, you will not become a citizen, and your family will not be united in the United States if you attempt to cross here illegally.’ The problem would disappear within a week.”

Instead, the Obama administration has chosen a much different approach. For example, federal-government officials have sent hundreds of illegal-immigrant women and children to a Greyhound bus station in Phoenix to find their relatives around the country, asking them to report to an immigration center within 15 days of arriving at their new location, according to a report in the New York Times.

“It’s astonishing how they are scrambling all over themselves to accommodate these individuals and yet doing almost nothing to stop people from trying to cross,” says Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies. “It makes you suspicious of whether the original intention all along was to provide everyone with amnesty.”

It certainly does.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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