Last week, the annual conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) became emotional over unaccompanied minors coming in unprecedented numbers to the US. The Deputy Secretary of DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas, followed prepared remarks with a Q&A. He was asked what was being done to protect these children. He paused and told the story about how his morning had begun. He received a graphic report of an alien family, mother and 2 children, who had crossed into Texas. The mother and 1 of the children had been run over and killed in an auto accident. He started his morning learning of a 5-year-old recently orphaned child on US soil—there was an emotionally charged silence by Sec. Mayorkas and by the audience of 3,000 immigration lawyers.
According to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in remarks this week before the House Committee on Homeland Security: “To be clear, we face an urgent situation…Last year, CBP apprehended more than 24,000 unaccompanied children at the border. By mid-June of this fiscal year, that number has doubled to more than 52,000. Those from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras make up about three quarters of that migration.” http://www.dhs.gov/news/2014/06/24/statement-secretary-homeland-security-jeh-johnson-house-committee-homeland-security
His testimony and a statement by Vice-President Joe Biden describe actions and priorities. In a White House press release of June 20th, Mr. Biden stated: “Our first priority is to manage the urgent humanitarian situation by making sure these children are housed, fed and receive any necessary medical treatment. We also are taking steps to improve enforcement and partnering with our Central American counterparts in three key areas: combating gang violence and strengthening citizen security, spurring economic development, and improving capacity to receive and reintegrate returned families and children.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/fact-sheet-unaccompanied-children-central-america
June 20th was also World Refugee Day. In ceremonies throughout the world, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency UNHCR tried to highlight the plight of the world’s record numbers of refugees. According to UNHCR statistics, there is a worldwide population of over 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people. Undoubtedly, some of the unaccompanied children coming to the US are refugees—having a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group—some are not.
The US admits and resettles more refugees than any other country in the world, but the vast majority of the 43.7 million stay in camps or return to their homeland—only about 100,000 refugees per year are resettled in 3rd countries. Those resettled in the US receive funding from HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) . In order to fund the services to the unaccompanied minors, ORR is using funds that had been allocated to refugee resettlement. Which humanitarian crisis requires the funds more urgently? Will Congress allocate funds specifically to assist with the humanitarian crisis of the inflow of unaccompanied minors? We will see.
The US doesn’t have a monopoly on humanitarian crises from the inflow of unaccompanied minors. The New York Times reports that this is also a problem in Europe, particularly Italy. In a June 14th article focusing on the squalid conditions in a Rome facility known to refugees as the “Palace of Squatters”, the Times quotes Rome’s Mayor, Ignazio Marino. Marino is a transplant surgeon who had practiced at UPMC in Pittsburgh and at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia before entering Italian political life. The article states: ”Mayor Marino sees the problem as extending beyond Rome. Europe as a whole ’has to offer opportunities to people, not just beds…’ He called for a strategic plan for refugees. ‘This is a challenge that has to be faced at the European Union level…” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/world/europe/palace-of-squatters-is-a-symbol-of-refugee-crisis.html?_r=0
This is the approach the US seems to be taking and hopefully adequately funding, by facing the humanitarian crisis on a national and international level.