Action Alert

Crisis at the Border: Which Way to Liberty?

Crisis at the Border: Which Way to Liberty?

There are problems in my country. The biggest problem is the gangs. They go into the school and take girls out and kill them. I had to go very far to go to school and I had to walk by myself. There was nowhere else I could go where it would’ve been safer.

14-year-old girl from El Salvador

For more than 140 years United Methodist Women has supported immigrants’ rights. We affirm a vision of God’s beloved community in which nationalities and borders do not divide us and the human rights of every person are affirmed. Our foremothers met women disembarking from boats at Ellis Island in New York City and gave them shelter, community and training for jobs. This debate about who “belongs” as Americans is very much a conversation about race. It involves all of us—not just new immigrants—as it defines who we are as Christians, as United Methodist Women, as a nation.

Child Migrants

The immigration challenge facing the United States is not new, but recently the issue has made headlines as a humanitarian crisis. Since October 2013, nearly 63,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught crossing the border into the United States. Many children have fled the violence and widespread poverty of their respective Central American nations. Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America told United Methodist Women,

The tens of thousands of migrant women and children who have arrived at our borders in recent months confronted often unthinkable perils on their journey. Many times fleeing violence and insecurity in their home countries, these migrants discovered new dangers during their travels through Mexico, including cases of sexual violence, extortion, robbery, assault and even kidnapping by criminal gangs who prey on this vulnerable population in Mexico. After such a treacherous journey, migrants often face additional risks, especially in these hot summer months; on average, more than one migrant per day dies while traveling in U.S. borderlands.

The number of children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador coming into the United States has steadily increased over the past two to three years.

In May alone more than 48,000 children crossed into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley in southeastern Texas. Most migrants who cross the border are boys ages of 15-17, but an increasing number are younger children and girls. Many children are seeking to reunite with loved ones located in the United States. A United Nations study of the unaccompanied migrant children found that 36 percent come to the United States because one or more of their parents already live here.

Aiding Migrants

Cities such as San Pedro Sula in Honduras boast the world’s highest homicide rate, and more than 2,000 children from that city alone have endured the dangerous journey to the United States to escape the perilous conditions they were living in.

The Obama Administration has called the crisis an “urgent humanitarian situation,” with thousands of unaccompanied minors being held in makeshift shelters that are over capacity. Illness, disease and unsanitary conditions have been reported at some of the detention centers. In July the Obama Administration asked states to volunteer to build temporary shelters for the child migrants.

Recently, however, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reported that the number of minors crossing the border has declined. Around 5,500 children were detained at the border in July, almost half of the number detained in May and June. The number of immigrant adults with children detained by Border Patrol agents also dropped—from 16,330 in June compared to 7,410 in July. In the wake of decreasing numbers and limited funds, the Obama Administration has also decided to stop using military facilities as temporary shelters for child migrants.

The 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act requires Border Patrol officials to turn undocumented minors over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours for humane housing until they can be released to a family member. The law also grants minors access to legal counsel and an immigration hearing process.

If a child does not have a sponsor readily available to care for them, they remain with Health and Human Services for an average of 35 days until their immigration court date. More than 30,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed with a sponsor or family members since January 2014.

In July the Obama Administration requested $3.7 billion in additional funding from Congress to support agencies and personnel tasked with processing and relocating the distressed youths. A counterproposal from the House offered a much lower $694 million to address the border conditions. However, no legislation was passed before summer recess.

In response President Obama is considering executive action to allow immigrants to stay, including work permits and providing temporary legal status for undocumented immigrants who closely related to current U.S. citizens or who have lived in the United States for a certain amount of time already.

Militarizing the Border

At the state level, Texas Governor Rick Perry has sent 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for “extra eyes” at the border and for what he says is to stop drug gang crimes in Texas. According to Perry, the recent influx of children is only a side issue. National Guard troops will refer immigrants to the Department of Public Safety and will reinforce local and state law enforcement officials to deter border crossings. They can detain people who break criminal laws but not for breaking immigration laws.

Increased militarization at the border has led to an increase in migrant deaths in the desert as migrants look to enter the country via more dangerous routes. In the past decade around 2,000 men, women and children have died this way.

A Humane Response

The plight of tens of thousands of children requires a humanitarian response, not another increase in border enforcement and mass deportation of those seeking refuge.

The United States must acknowledge its role as a demand-based market for the illicit drug trade, the violence from which families in Central America are fleeing. The U.S. government cannot ignore the deep-rooted poverty of the Central American region. These root causes must be addressed.

While Congress remains on vacation, children at the border await their fate: sanctuary or deportation.

A 16-year-old boy from El Salvador also spoke with the UN about gang violence in his home country: “There are lots of gangs in my country. They force you to do bad things to other people, or they force you to get involved with them or to use drugs. I didn’t want to do that, and so my whole family agreed that I should come here.”

Now is the time to voice your concern. Let lawmakers know that decisive action is needed to help these children, and petty political bickering cannot get in the way. “To refuse to welcome migrants to this country—and to stand by in silence while families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the migrant community in the United States is demonized by members of Congress and the media—is complicity to sin.” (Resolution 3281, “Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2012).

Posted or updated: 8/26/2014 11:00:00 PM

Action

Contact your congressional officials (switchboard: 202-224-3121, senate.gov or house.gov) and urge them to support the president’s border appropriation proposal for comprehensive resources. Tell them that partisan infighting must end and an agreement must be reached for the sake of the children at our borders. Insist that Congress adopt a “best interest of the child” standard for all federal procedures, actions and decisions, including halting deportation. Draw an outline of a child’s hand or shoe and write your message to your representative in the outline, representing the thousands of children whose hands are disconnected from their parents and whose feet are tired.

Pass a local resolution and become a welcoming community for Central American refugees. In most towns, cities and localities throughout the United States, you can ask your city council, county commissioners, village board or other governing body to pass a resolution.

Call on the U.S. Department of Commerce (202-482-2000) to develop humane economic, trade and foreign policies to reduce forced migration.

Read Your People Will be My People by Hanna Adair Bonner.

Read Departures" by David Montgomery of the Washington Post to learn more about the individual children who have crossed the border.

Read5 Myths about the Border Crisisby Douglas Farah.

Learn more about the United Methodist Women humanitarian response to immigrants.

Read Resolution 3283, U.S. Immigration and Family Unity,” and Resolution 3284, “Faithfulness in Response to Critical Needs,” in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 2012.

Global Migration*Find resources for advocating with migrants

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