In The News: Executive Authority and the Humanitarian Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border
by Erin M. Stephens
Compounding conservative ire, President Obama announced last week that he would use his executive power to push through changes in immigration policy as the House has failed to pass the Senate approved immigration policy or any other immigration reforms. Among the actions he has already taken is DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program announced in 2012, which provides two years of deportation relief and work authorization for eligible undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 (e.g. arrived in the U.S. before 16, have been here 5 continuous years, and are either in the military or have attended high school or an equivalent program). DACA was widely praised by pro-immigrant activists and DREAMers, however, Republicans are now crediting Obama’s program for creating an immigration crisis.
The major immigration issue now is the surge of Central American immigrants coming across the southern border. The number of immigrants is reportedly over 1300 percent higher since last year, with projections for the numbers to continue increasing over the next year. A sizable portion of the immigrants are unaccompanied children, young immigrants that some claim were encouraged to come by DACA. Though the majority of the children now crossing the border are ineligible for deferred deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and many reporters are crediting the surge to coyotes misrepresenting the policy in order to drum up their border-crossing businesses. Conversely, the Center for American Progress reports that violence, not the deferred deportation policy, is what is behind the surge of unaccompanied children based on their statistical analysis that compares data on violence and security with migration flows. They describe a humanitarian and refugee crisis in Central America as children flee the drug and gang violence that plagues Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and flood into the United States. Indeed, a study by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the majority of the unaccompanied child migrants from Mexico and Central America have international protection needs.
Obama’s administration is requesting 3.7 billion in emergency funds from Congress in order to address the surge at the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the money is planned to go towards building up the border control, but a sizable portion would go towards improving the care of children going through the deportation process as well as speeding it up. Part of the difficulty is that unlike Mexican child migrants children from Central America must be given a court hearing before being deported due to a 2008 act designed to combat child trafficking. Each child is considered case by case and it can take two years to go through the courts. In addition to working to speed up the process, 300 million of the funding is planned to go towards returning the children back to their home country safely and to Mexican and Central American governments to try to stem the flow of migrants by addressing governance and security issues.
With the reports of a flood of 52,000 children on one hand and the political fights on the hill on the other, it is hard to know if the ‘immigration crisis’ is a humanitarian or a policy issue. In U.S.-Mexico bordering states, undocumented immigrants encounter a range of experiences, suggesting that the humanitarian aspect of the crisis is on both sides of the border. Enraged protestors turned away a bus of undocumented immigrant detainees in a small town in California, while in El Paso, TX, a shelter that offers support to undocumented immigrants is facing a breaking point as its resources are stretched by the rising numbers. Arizona and the federal government continue their battle over immigration policy, with the state losing the most recent appeal. Arizona had been refusing to issue driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found no legitimate state interest for the policy, instead suggesting it was meant to be discriminatory.
Over the last several years Obama has issued a number of executive orders that have been roundly criticized by Republicans. In fact, Speaker of House John Boehner is bringing legislation to the floor to authorize a lawsuit against the President this month for ‘overreaching his authority’ through executive actions. However, given the surge of unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the United States, it is clear that the time is now for decisive action to be taken to address the humanitarian and policy issues at hand. Meanwhile, DACA renewals are ramping up as the earliest recipients reach the end of the two year deferment.
This post was originally published July 10, 2014, http://iir.gmu.edu/articles/7022