For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
In a meeting last week President Barack Obama told the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that many of the children from these countries who have turned themselves into U.S. border agents will need to be sent home. Since last October, approximately 57,000 children from Central America have come to the U.S. With Congress deadlocked on ways to address the current child migration crisis and the larger issue of what to do about the 11 million people in this country without legal authorization, Obama has vowed to fix much of our immigration system on his own. Please join us to discuss next steps for immigration reform.
- Marc Rosenblum deputy director, U.S. immigration policy program, Migration Policy Institute
- Mark Hugo Lopez director, Hispanic trends, Pew Research
- Carl Meacham Americas program director at Center for Strategic & International Studies.
- Laura Meckler staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm because today Diane is at the White House to receive a national humanities medal from President Obama. You can watch the ceremony live at 3:00 p.m. eastern time on WAMU.org. We're all so proud of her. Congratulations, Diane.
MS. SUSAN PAGEPresident Obama is now considering actions he can take without Congressional approval on immigration. Congress seems unlikely to approve his request for emergency funds to deal with the flood of Central American children across the southern border. And a comprehensive immigration bill look impossible.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHere to talk about the challenge and what's ahead, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Mark Lopez of the Pew Research Center, Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute. And joining us by phone from Hancock Point, Maine, Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
MS. SUSAN PAGECarl, I speak for all of us in saying we all wish we were calling in from Hancock Point, Maine. But welcome to...
MR. CARL MEACHAMAgreed.
PAGEWelcome to all of the members of our panel. If you'd like to join our conversation later in this hour, call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Laura Meckler, President Obama is weighing what he can do on immigration as the chief executive.
PAGEOne idea is a refugee plan. Tell us what the White House is thinking about doing.
MS. LAURA MECKLERWell, there's a lot that the White House is thinking about doing specifically in response to this child migration crisis, which, as you know, is tens of thousands of children who have come across the Mexico border principally from Central American. He's trying to figure out what he can do sort of on his own to try to stem this flow.
MS. LAURA MECKLEROne idea that's out there is a refugee program that would probably start in Honduras and the idea would be to evaluate children to see if they qualify for the right to stay in the U.S., but do that in their home country. The idea, the hope, is that the people who qualify would be able to get here in a safe way and those who don't would not try the journey at all.
MS. LAURA MECKLERBut that's really fairly a small piece of the overall puzzle. The overall puzzle is you have to figure out what do you do with the kids who do come here 'cause presumably some will still try and there are a lot who are already here. And one thing he is trying to do to respond to that is to try to figure out ways to speed up the processing of these kids through our immigration courts.
MS. LAURA MECKLERAs it stands, it can take years for a child's case to be heard. So that's one thing he would like to do on his own. There is other things that require Congressional approval and some of it is beyond his control.
PAGEAnd when you talk about this refugee plan, of course, just one piece of the puzzle, why just do it in Honduras?
MECKLERWell, the idea is that it would be a pilot program that would start there and then be expanded to the other two countries that are sending children -- principally sending children here, Guatemala and El Salvador. So the idea is that you would try it there first.
PAGECarl Meacham, the president talked about this plan at a meeting he had Friday at the White House with the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Tell us what we know about what was discussed at that meeting.
MEACHAMWell, what was discussed really were the conditions that exist in the different countries that the violence is something that's overwhelming, that there's transnational crime. The children are exploited and abused on their way here, that the economic hardships in the different countries sort of create an environment that is not positive for children and their families to have options to make lives in these different countries.
MEACHAMSo that's one part of it that was discussed. Then, you get into sort of the different interests that the different parties have. So one the one hand, the United States, as was mentioned before, has this huge number of folks coming to the United States, coming to the border.
MEACHAMI think what the president wanted to make very clear is that it was a shared responsibility that, you know, there are a lot of these poll factors that have to do with transnational crime and narco-trafficking that sort of create this environment in these countries and that the United States has to sort of fess up and be as helpful not just on the border or dealing with children when they get here, as well as dealing with the root causes of these problems in the countries themselves.
PAGENow, you moderated a panel last week that had two of these presidents on it, the president of Honduras and the president of Guatemala. Kind of what was their attitude about this? What did they feel about the fact that all these kids, their next generation, trying desperately to get out of their countries?
MEACHAMI think the message, I think, that they wanted to put forth was that they are children, that the people who are coming are children, that we should -- that our response the their coming should be one of sympathy, empathy and that, you know, we have to figure out ways to deal with this issue. Again, they focused a lot on the fact that the United States has a shared responsibility to deal with these issues.
MEACHAMThey talked about the Central American Regional Security Initiative, something called CARSI, that has been inadequate in their opinion in dealing with a lot of the challenges having to do with economic development, strengthening institutions of government and advancing security.
MEACHAMSo, again, their role or their position was to explain that the cooperation that exists between the two countries is inadequate to deal with the challenges that they have and that’s why the children are coming.
PAGEMark Hugo Lopez, Pew Research has updated information on exactly how many kids are coming, some characteristics of them, their age, their gender and so on. Tell us what you found.
MR. MARK HUGO LOPEZSo we did a Freedom of Information Act request of the Department of Homeland Security and we got data for fiscal years 2013 and fiscal year 2014. And one of the big changes, not only has there been a spike, but the spike has been driven by two demographic groups, girls -- so there's been an increase of about 77 percent in the number of girls crossing the border from Mexico to the United States, most of them from Central America, and the second group is children 12 and under.
MR. MARK HUGO LOPEZSo those are the two groups we've seen a spike in. The children in 12 and under are actually up more than 117 percent.
PAGEAnd what do you -- conclusion can you draw from this big change? Both why are girls more likely to come and why are these really young kids coming?
LOPEZThat's a good question. No, this data doesn't give us an opportunity to really tell what the reasons are, why they're coming, but certainly violence, particularly because many of these young people are from Honduras. Some of the biggest spikes, particularly for girls, have been for those who are coming from Honduras.
LOPEZAnd San Pedro Sula, which is the murder capital of the world, is one of the places where we have a large number of young people, unaccompanied minors, coming across the border from.
PAGESo Marc Rosenblum, tell us about how many of these kids have come to be reunited with a parent or another family member who is already in this country, perhaps illegally?
MR. MARC ROSENBLUMWell, we know that about 85 percent of kids who have moved through the preliminary steps in the process and been placed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement have been placed with parents or close family members. So, you know, the overwhelming majority of the kids who come have a close family connection. There's about two and half million Central Americans from those three countries living in the United States.
MR. MARC ROSENBLUMMost of them are here either unauthorized or have temporary protected status, which means they can't legally sponsor a family member to come. So kids who, you know, are looking to leave Central America, who have a family connection here, you know, it's probably someone who can't sponsor them and so a lot of them are coming, you know, unauthorized.
PAGESo 85 percent have a close family member, you're saying. What happens to the -- these kids get placed with close family members. What happens to the other kids who do not have a close family member?
ROSENBLUMSo they can either be place with a foster family -- well, there's a whole hierarchy that the law requires that in the custody decision while kids are waiting for the immigration hearing, which can be many years, the first -- that the best interest of the child has to be taken into account in determining, you know, what the custody situation is going to be.
ROSENBLUMSo the first preference is to place them with a parent, if one can be identified, or a close family member. Under some circumstances, they can be placed with a non-family member, you know, who they have a connection to or then they would get placed with a foster family. And in a few cases, they would be held by the U.S. government, by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
PAGEAnd 57,000 kids, I mean, we've had waves of illegal immigrants before from Cuba and from Haiti and from elsewhere. Have we ever had a number like this before?
ROSENBLUMWe've never had a number of children like this. I mean, we've definitely had larger waves of unauthorized arrivals, you know, even in compressed time periods like this. But they've always, in the past, been, you know, mostly adults or whole family units so this definitely the largest child migration that, I think, any country in the world has ever see.
PAGESo, Laura, tell us about the politics of this. What do Americans think about this? What do they want to see their government do?
MECKLERWell, Americans are pretty fed up with the government on this. I mean, everybody gets pretty low ratings. I think there's just general frustration about this. I don't think that the average American really understands what the policy debate is 'cause it's actually fairly subtle and the politics are a little bit scrambled on that here in Washington.
MECKLERWhat the main -- there are two real issues that have to be settled by Congress. One is President Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency spending. A lot of that is for HHS shelters who hold the children while they're looking for these placements that we were just talking about that. Some of that is to detain families that are traveling who can legally be detained.
MECKLERThere's a lot money at stake. So that's one issue. And the politics of that I that essentially the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, wants to give them a lot of that money, not quite all of it. The House, controlled by Republicans, is willing to give the some money, but it's going to be more like a billion or $1.5 billion.
MECKLERBut this is all contingent, as far as Republicans are concerned, about changing the law. The law right now requires -- and this is really the key to the debate here in Washington right now. Right now, there is a law that -- and anti-trafficking law that was passed in 2008 and what it says is that if you're from a country that does not touch the United States, which would be all of these Central American countries, then your cases cannot be expedited.
MECKLEREverybody else, essentially, almost all other illegal immigrants have their cases quickly determined. And if you're not qualified to stay, you're sent back. But for these children, it's a different situation. And what happens is that they are place with sponsors in the U.S. and go through the normal immigration court system.
MECKLERThe immigration courts are badly backlogged so that takes a long time. So what Republicans would like to do is to change that law so we could speed up deportations. The irony is that President Obama requested the same thing. He wants the same thing, too, although he's been very sort of sheepish about promoting it because almost everybody else in his party is opposed to it 'cause they say that it's wrong to, you know, speed up deportations of kids, send them back to terrible violent situations.
MECKLERWe better be sure that they, in fact, have to be sent back. So we have a very scrambled politics on this and the result of which is -- this isn't going to be a shock to you, Susan, there may be nothing at all happens in Washington. The House and Senate have just till the end of the week before their August recess.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to go to the phones, take your calls and questions. You can call our toll-free line, 1-800-433-8850. You can also send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining us this hour in the studio, Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic trends for the Pew Research Center. Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute. Laura Meckler, she's a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. And joining us by phone, Carl Meacham. He's the Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
PAGEAnd before we go to the phones, I wanted to ask you, Marc Rosenblum, these kids who have arrived here, are they in fact eligible, do they qualify for asylum which would enable them to stay here legally?
ROSENBLUMWell, we have a few different sort of data points on that. There's been a lot of interviews done and screening done by nonprofit groups, you know, that provide pro bono legal assistance. And those groups have estimated that between about 40 and 60 percent of kids potentially have a legal -- a claim to legal relief, to humanitarian relief to remain in the U.S. A much smaller share of the kids has actually worked its way through the process and applied for asylum and have been granted asylum. So only a couple of thousand of asylum applications in each of the last few years. But a majority of the kids who apply get asylum but most kids don't apply. Probably a smaller number apply than potentially have some legal claim.
PAGEBut will all the kids -- all these 57,000 kids who arrived, are they likely to all apply for asylum?
ROSENBLUMWell, the asylum process in the U.S. -- and there's actually a few different humanitarian visas they may be eligible for. The other big one is called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. They're both very complicated application procedures and essentially you need a lawyer to do it. Most of these kids don't have lawyers. And in immigration court, unlike in criminal court, there's no legal right to have an attorney. So what we see is that mostly only kids who have pro bono attorneys apply. And the attorneys do a lot of screening to, you know, encourage only the kids who have -- who likely have a successful claim to apply.
ROSENBLUMSo most of them, either because they don't have an attorney or because they don't meet the narrow legal definition of asylum, which is pretty specific in U.S. law, most of them likely won't apply.
PAGECarl, we heard the president say that most of these kids will have to go back home to Central America. I wonder if you think that's actually true given that 85 percent of these kids are being placed with close family members? Are they -- most of these kids likely to be deported back to Central America?
MEACHAMWell, I mean, I think that on the one hand I think what was mentioned earlier are the different laws to deal with some of these issues. The deferred action for children, child arrivals, I believe, that deals with some of these issues. And, you know, there's been some question about the application of these laws, right, because they take so long. Some folks have said that the administration has been lax in dealing with it. Other folks have focused on the fact that there's a result to this which is the ability of the Central American governments to actually absorb these children coming back, which I think goes to your question.
MEACHAMWill they be able to absorb the children going back is the big question. Do they have the funding? Do they have the money? Do they have the resources, the institutions to be able to do this? Or will we just see these kids sort of go back and then, you know, try again to come to the United States. Or, you know, as they're doing right now, they're also going to other countries in the region. They're also going to Costa Rica. They're going to Panama. They're going to Nicaragua.
MEACHAMSo I think the bigger issue here is if they're able to deal with the root causes of why these children are coming. Not so much -- or I think it's half of the equation is to deal with, you know, what the particulars are in dealing with the children and with their claims in this country versus also dealing with the root causes so that the kids aren't coming in the first place.
MECKLERYou know one of the things that U.S. officials are concerned about is the ability of these countries to repatriate these kids to taking them back. And there's been a lot of attention of that in the conversations that the senior U.S. officials have had with these governments to say, you know, we want you to be ready. We're going to give you funding for your repatriation centers.
MECKLERBut we should add that -- you mentioned the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which gives essentially a safe harbor for young people who have been in the country for a long time. And these kids don't qualify for that. There's been a lot of attention to that. Some Republicans think that that program which is Obama executive action has drawn kids here. But the administration has taken pains to note that none of them do quality for that.
PAGEBut if the president did it for one group of kids, couldn't he do it for the group of kids who are just now arriving?
MECKLERWell, he could theoretically do that but under Obama policy recent border crossers are considered a priority for deportation. These kids are recent border crossers. The people who qualified for that program had to arrive by 2007. So, yes, of course he could do that and I think the more likely course though is they -- sort of to say de facto, you know, we just never decide to actually go ahead and deport them. That may be a possibility rather than sort of an overt allowing them to stay.
MECKLERI think the president is very concerned legitimately even though he has also worked to sort of try to help people who are in the country illegally. He's also concerned that if we don't shut this down, more and more people are going to come. And if the word gets out even more as it has already, hey, if you come you'll get to stay, then more and more will come is the theory. So I think that the administration is pretty focused on sending a message that says you have to go back.
PAGEBecause even staying here illegally it's preferable to being in a place where there's such violence and poverty. Carl, you wanted to get in here.
MEACHAMNo, that's exactly right. And I think what Laura's saying is true but more than anything what I would try to focus on is that there are push and pull factors to this issue. And we really can't sort of put all our eggs in one basket saying that it's -- that it has to do with the laws here in the United States being the pull factors. And that's what really is dominating the discussion. Or that the push factors are everything. I think it's a combination of the two.
MEACHAMAnd unfortunately, in the president's 3.7 billion supplemental request and in the Democrat response and in the Republican response, there isn't any kind of balance or any semblance of a balance to deal with the root causes as well as with the pull factors that, I guess, the GOP is trying to define the issue with in this country.
MEACHAMThe last thing I would say though is that when we deal with this issue, when we've dealt with this issue in the past, we've had governments from the countries where these problems are existing let's say, Colombia, with Colombia to deal with narco trafficking that have actually bought into helping or cooperating or working out a solution. There's been little in so far as trust in the development of that kind of trust with the countries in Central American historically. So this issue becomes even more important in dealing with this today. Can we trust the folks that we're working with in the Central American countries to find a solution?
PAGELet's go to the phones. Let's talk first to Bill who's calling us from Pryor, Okla. Bill, hi, you're on the air.
BILLGood morning, Susan and panelists. It's frustrating to me how little creativity our political leaders have shown about this matter. It seems to me the discussion has revolved around sending these kids back to unhealthy, as you said, violent environments sooner or later. For several years I was the head of an Episcopal boarding school in Mississippi. And we attracted a diverse student body from all over the country and several other countries precisely because we provided a safe and secure and stimulating environment.
BILLI wonder why it wouldn't be a great investment by our country to help these Central American countries develop institutions like that to which these students could be sent back.
PAGEAll right. Bill, thanks for your call. Who on the panel would like to respond to that, Marc?
ROSENBLUMWell, I mean, I think that's a great point. And there are some pilot programs, especially in Guatemala, but some pilot programs in all three of the countries that involve reception centers to help kids as they arrive back, and then reintegration programs to get them into job training and schools and sort of onto a better track than what caused them to leave. Those programs right now are really small, but it is a small slice of what the president has proposed in this supplemental funding request to increase funding to those programs. But even with that additional funds, you know, those would have to get built out pretty substantially to, you know, change the facts on the ground.
PAGEA lack of creativity. Do you agree with that Laura or do you think they haven't been kind of imaginative enough in figuring out how you can respond to this in a way that shows that we're a law-abiding nation but also one with a compassionate heart?
MECKLERI mean, I think some people have tried to get that balance. I think that what ends up happening when it gets put through the Washington political machine is that people seize the pieces that they're most comfortable with. And what you end up seeing is that Republicans are comfortable with an enforcement strategy. So that's what they talk about. Democrats tend to be much more focused on the humanitarian piece of it. So that's what they focus on. So people kind of filter this through what their own comfort zone is.
MECKLERI mean, you asked earlier about the politics of this. One interesting thing is that around the country there has been -- some people have responded like the caller, who said, you know, we should be welcoming people. Other people, and lots and lots of communities have been up in arms almost over the idea that there would be shelters in their communities to house these kids. Talking about the kids coming in with diseases, I mean, some really sort of hateful things.
MECKLERThere have been other people, some governors, who have said -- been angry about the fact that they haven't been told how many children were sent to their state. The governor of Maine where Carl is now -- maybe you can have a shout with them about this -- was very upset because he was not informed that eight children, eight had been placed with families in his state, and why didn't he know that? I mean, so there has been a fairly hostile reaction.
PAGEHere's an email we've gotten from Linda who writes us from Kerrville, Texas. She says, "They are not just immigrants, they are illegal immigrants. How many are being placed in the foster care system where us few taxpayers will be paying their school, education, health care monthly payments and then free college? We are under attack in paying them to be here. It's disgraceful." Well, Mark Hugo Lopez, let me ask you, you know, we have of course a rather long standing debate about what to do about our immigration system. Has this crisis affected American's attitudes toward that larger debate?
LOPEZSo we found in a recent poll we did this month that among all Americans there's still support for immigration reform, for finding a way for those who are here in the country illegally to stay here. However, there have been some changes, and among Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans, there's been more of a -- excuse me -- a move towards rather than allowing them to stay legally, more say that they should be -- that an authorized immigrant should be deported. So there's been a little bit of a change in opinion among Americans, particularly Republicans and Tea Party Republicans.
PAGESo it's kind of toughened attitudes toward immigration.
LOPEZThat's correct, yeah.
PAGEYeah. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Laura Meckler.
MECKLERWell, it's also interesting how the Republican Party is sort of positioned on immigration. They have a big problem on immigration. They're trying to reach out to Hispanic voters. They have dealt woefully with Hispanic voters in the last president race. And so they're trying to find ways but yet this whole enforcement strategy I think may complicate that a little bit in the sense that they haven't passed immigration reform in the Republican-controlled House. And now they're sort of doubling down on enforcement. So it isn't some people, you know, worry -- Republicans who think about this worry that they are not, you know, sending the welcoming message that they would like to.
MEACHAMI would also talk about the fact that as far as attitudes having to do with the acceptance of these kids, you know, the UN recommended that the U.S. government treat this as a refugee crisis. And we've had a past of giving asylum to folks that are coming to the U.S. for different reasons. Of course what's happening in Central America is different than let's say what's happening in the Middle East. But these kids are coming here because they're escaping violence. That's an issue that needs to be understood and needs to be dealt with.
MEACHAMAs far as the other issues having to do with the political side of this in the U.S., obviously this issue has political context, particularly as we're going into the midterm elections. And I think it would be a mistake from both political parties not to look at the implications that this is going to have with people, with their voters. On the one hand you have some of the GOP folks that are focusing more on the border and on putting more national guard on the border. And then you have some of the humanitarian approaches let's say that Governor Patrick for instance in Massachusetts has had.
MEACHAMThe demographics of this issue are very important. Hispanics in the United States make up 17 percent of the population and growing. So there is a side of this that is going to deal with the domestic reality. I used to call -- I like to call these intermestic issues. They're international in origin with domestic implications. And I think that the elections are definitely going to be dealing with this issue as we go into the fall.
PAGEWell, Carl, what kind of impact do you think this issue will have on the midterm elections?
MEACHAMWell, I think that a lot of folks, not just Hispanics, because I think a lot of Americans have views on this issue, are going to pay attention to what their leaders, what their congressmen, what their senators are -- what positions they're taking on these issues. And I think that that should be something that folks pay attention to as we're going along here.
MEACHAMYou know, the issues of demographics, particularly with the Hispanic community in this country, are just growing and growing and growing and growing. And we're just seeing basically another round of this issue. Of course, Hispanic Americans don't only focus on immigration issues. They focus on education and health care and a series of other issues. But this is the issue that I think a lot of folks in the Hispanic community feel that is the sort of -- the showcase issue to see where a member of congress or where the administration is on issues that are important to who they are and who they are in this country.
PAGEI've heard it described as a gateway issue so that if you're not -- for an Hispanic voter if you have -- take a very hard line against immigration that they won't listen to you, a politician, his or her views on other issues because they want to hear that one first, even though other issues may be as important or more important. Mark Hugo Lopez, what kind of impact do you think it will have on the midterm elections?
LOPEZIt could have an impact on the Latino vote but in looking at some of the data that we have from our most recent poll, Americans generally disapprove of the way the president's handling this particular crisis. They disapprove 54 to 28 percent. But when you take a look at how's Obama's approval overall, there's been no change in this.
LOPEZSo it's interesting that on the one hand there's disapproval of the way the president's handling this particular crisis, but there's no change in sort of the view of the president's job approval rating overall.
PAGEYou know, of course, for the midterm elections you're concerned about local and state elections, not a national election. And if you look at the places where the key Senate races are, the very competitive Senate races will determine which party controls the Senate after the November elections. They tend to be in red states that are Republican. And we know that these are places where it's not a welcome sign out for these kids. There's a desire for the government to take a harder approach to them, Marc Rosenblum.
ROSENBLUMYeah, I think that's right. I mean, the electoral map that we're concerned about for the midterm race is very different then the 2016 national race. So the importance of Latinos as sort of swing voters is going to play out very differently and going to be much more important in 2016. But the other thing that I think reinforces the point you just made is how much this crisis is viewed as sort of a border security, illegal immigration problem rather than a humanitarian crisis, you know, involving children.
ROSENBLUMAnd, I mean, over and over again we hear about this as a border crisis but there's actually not really a border crisis. There's no -- we're not seeing kids crossing the border and evading apprehension. What we're seeing is that there's a bit of a crisis in our immigration court system for processing and for, you know, making these humanitarian determinations. That backlog is a real problem but there's no border crisis.
MECKLERThat's true. That's very true. Kids are literally turning themselves in. They're crossing the border and turning themselves into agents. So I'm not really sure what exactly the problem is with the border.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about what Texas Governor Rick Perry has done. He's called up the National Guard and sent them to the border. We'll talk about that decision. And we'll go to your phones and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the issue of immigration, the next steps by the United States to deal with this influx of kids coming from Central America. We're joined by Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic trends for the Pew Research Center, and Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, Laura Meckler, she's a staff writer with The Wall Street Journal, and Carl Meacham, who joins us by phone from Maine. He's the Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
PAGEAnd we're taking your calls. Let's talk to Etta, calling us from Ann Arbor, Mich. Etta, thanks for holding on.
ETTAYes. Good morning.
ETTAI am calling to raise a slightly different question. I've heard and heard about these immigrant children. And I understand and I have sympathy for them. But we have a whole population of children in our country now, some the descendents of people who were brought here involuntarily, and we're not taking care of them. We have our own humanitarian crisis and we claim we can't do anything about it. And yet we're talking about solving yet another humanitarian crisis, because it's become a crisis. I'm much more concerned, although I have sympathy for these children, with the children growing up in Appalachia and inner-city Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles...
ETTA...and the Native American children who have been robbed of their future since we came to this country. And I'm very perplexed why everybody is lobbying for taking care of these children, when we neglect our own children. And that means that their futures are curtailed just as if they lived in one of the countries run by gangs.
PAGEEtta, thank you so much for your call. Mark Hugo Lopez, is that an attitude you think is widely shared among Americans?
LOPEZYes. In fact, when you take a look at a lot of the polling that a lot of organizations are doing, you do see that many Americans feel like many of these children should be processed quickly and deported quickly. But I do think it's also interesting that some of their findings in the polls that have been done have actually found that Americans in different communities -- in fact a majority of Americans -- would welcome having the children come to their community. So there's kind of a couple of different views on this. On the one hand, a hard line, but on the other, a welcoming point of view.
MECKLERI mean I'm not really sure that the interests of the children, as I was talking about, are in conflict with the interests of these children coming across the border. Because nobody that I know of -- I mean, there are some -- but most people in the sort of mainstream of the debate are not saying, sure, come in and we'll take care of you and give you all the services you need. You can stay forever. I mean, if for no other reason, people aren't saying that because it would encourage more to come.
MECKLERAnd the end journey, the 1,000-mile-plus journey from Central America is incredibly dangerous. So nobody wants to encourage more kids to do that. So it's -- nobody is really making that case. The question is, they're here. How do we deal with them once they're here? Do you quickly deport them or do you give them more time to make their claims and, you know, some people under U.S. law, do have a right to be here if they meet certain criteria.
PAGEHere's an email from Roger, who writes, "What incentive, if any, does the Mexican government have to prevent illegal border crossings into the U.S.?" And another related email from Pam, who writes us from Bethesda, Md., "These children are traversing the entire length of Mexico before crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Why was the government of Mexico not included in the White House conversation with the three Central American countries?" Carl, what do you think?
MEACHAMI think that's a great question. Even though cooperation between the two countries has improved in a big way during the last decade with something called the Mérida Initiative that is framework agreement to deal with -- or to strengthen the Mexican government's ability to deal with narco-trafficking and strengthening their institutions and doing things like that. It's interesting that the kids just sort of pass through Mexico and that the Mexican government itself hasn't taken a more aggressive way of dealing with them.
MEACHAMThis highlights the fact that Mexico itself has issues with its borders, with its southern border in particular, and that it has work to do with stopping the influx of immigrant children coming into Mexico itself. This highlights that issues. On the other hand, I think that the communication now between the two countries has been very positive insofar as giving each other heads up, so in communication on what's coming. The Mexicans themselves, in their constitution, have a portion of the constitution that really doesn't, how would you say, doesn't stop or doesn't put limitations on personal freedoms, and that has to do with movement as well.
MEACHAMSo that, they can't really tell the Mexicans to not come into the United States, even if it is a violation or it's illegal as far as we're concerned, that their entry coming into the U.S. But for third-country nationals, I think that more than anything what they've done is just made sure that we're aware that these folks are coming in. And finally, it highlights the fact that they have their own problems with their own border security, or borders, their southern border in particular, with these countries who are sending their kids to different parts of Central America and North America as well.
PAGEBecause, of course, crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. wouldn't violate Mexican law, it would violate U.S. law. Mark.
MEACHAMThat's exactly right.
LOPEZAnd I think it's important to note that we've also had a number of --about 11,000, almost 12,000 -- unaccompanied minors from Mexico cross the border as well. So this is not just Central American numbers, this is also Mexican numbers.
PAGEBut those kids get treated differently than these kids.
LOPEZThey get treated differently, yes.
PAGEAnd how do they get treated?
LOPEZWell, because of the 2008 law, what ends up happening is, if these children are apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol, they're turned over to the Mexican government through the Mexican consulates, and eventually they're returned to Mexico relatively quickly.
PAGEAnd so they are much less likely to be able to stay here even if they have a close family member.
MECKLERBut hasn't there been -- I think back to the conversation about Mexican border security -- I think there has been a big push by the Americans on the Mexicans to get their border security in order. And there has been an increase on this Mexican southern border, they have done more to try to shut down migration into Mexico, which of course is the -- I mean Carl would know more than I would about that. But that's my understanding that there has been an increase in that.
PAGECarl, is that right?
MEACHAMI think there's been -- there's more communication. There's the -- now they really do focus on the southern border as opposed to what used to happen 10 years ago. But there's still big challenges. And there's still areas that are basically open borders and that are run basically by coyotes and people that are helping people move either to Mexico or to the United States. There's still a lot of challenges there. Just to make a quick, quick point. When I was there about seven years ago, I went to a border crossing in a place called Tapachula, Guatemala, to come into Mexico.
MEACHAMAnd it was interesting, there was a computer there, but the computer wasn't hooked up to a phone line. So they were -- they were actually registering people as they crossed, but there was no way of transferring that information to anyone. That situation has improved. But these are the kinds of challenges that you've seen in the past with regards to this issue.
PAGEHere's an email from Michael who writes, "Children coming in who already have a family member here are not covered under the 2008 law." Marc Rosenblum, is that right?
ROSENBLUMThat's not right. The 2008 law was written very carefully to create, you know, a strong humanitarian protection and to guarantee that kids who didn't have a parent with them when they crossed the border, who weren't from Mexico, would, you know, subject to the full immigration hearing process. There are proposals -- there's a proposal in the House right now to amend that law to, you know, if someone has a parent in the U.S., they wouldn't be treated that way.
ROSENBLUMBut the law, you know, which passed unanimously through both chambers and was signed by President Bush, you know, was designed to make sure that these kids, many of whom have, you know, humanitarian claims, get that full hearing process.
PAGENow here's an email we've gotten from a listener, Denise, who writes, "For the children with parents in the U.S., aren't those parents also here illegally? And shouldn't the parent be sent back to their home country with their children? If an American parent sent their children on a journey like that, we would be arrested. Why aren't these parents living here not penalized for putting their children in harm's way?"
ROSENBLUMI mean that's also something that's been proposed in the House, that, you know, the parents who are taking custody of these kids would have to register with ICE, with DHS, and be subject to enforcement. Again, the way the 2008 law and the 2003 Homeland Security Act are structured -- or the 2002 Homeland Security Act are structured, it purposely creates sort of a wall between DHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles, you know, protecting these kids. So that when people are transferred to a parent's custody, they're not in, you know, they're not put into the DHS database.
PAGEIs that a possible outcome though, Laura, do you think? That actually the act of having your child come here illegally get placed with you, you're here illegally, could result in the deportation of the entire family?
MECKLERI don't see that happening. I don't think Democrats would support that. I don't think President Obama would support that. It really -- the move has been to actually give some sort of legal status to people who are in, you know, the 11 million who are in the country illegally. That's part of the immigration bill. There is, even among Republicans, although they weren't willing to act on it, there was -- before this happened -- a rough consensus in the House that they could support at least legalization, if not outright opportunity for citizenship for these people.
MECKLERSo I don't really see a lot of deportation of illegal immigrants who are settled in the U.S. There probably -- I'm not saying there won't be proposals and there aren't people who support that, there obviously are -- but I don't see that as happening.
PAGELet's talk to Howie. He's calling us from Boston. Howie, hi, you're on the air.
HOWIEGood morning, Susan. Let me just add a comment. There was a rally in Boston Common Saturday -- excess of 10,000 people, plus -- very much against allowing these young people to come into the country illegally on the southern border. A couple of points I'd like to make. It's been pointed out, unless the news is wrong, that many of these young children are not children, but teenagers and young adults, are members of certain cartels back in Guatemala and Honduras. So these are the issues that are concerning me, along with the issue of a young man with tuberculosis just disappeared in a hospital down in, I think Texas, I believe it is.
HOWIEAnd these are the things that are concerning not only myself but the people I've talked to and many of the folks at the rally. And I do think this, as far as I'm concerned, it has always been said, never put a crisis to waste. And I think this is one of those situations.
PAGEAll right. Thank you so much for your call, Howie. I wonder if anyone on our panel can address the issue of whether these are in fact some older kids who might be -- have engaged in criminal activity or might be sick, might have tuberculosis. Could anyone address whether that's the situation?
ROSENBLUMWell, the office of -- both Border Patrol and the Office of Refugee Resettlement do a lot of health screening. You know, so there's definitely systems in place to identify people who have communicable diseases and, you know, get them vaccinated and get them health care and quarantined, whatever needs to be done. You know, historically, a high share of the unaccompanied children arriving have been, you know, 16, 17 year olds. One of the trends that we're seeing now that Mark can probably speak to is that we're seeing younger and younger kids.
ROSENBLUMAnd a lot of the kids, particularly from Honduras and -- well, from all three of these countries, are fleeing the gangs. They're not, you know, we're not really seeing evidence that these are gang members showing up at the border, rather we're seeing people fleeing the gangs who have -- trying to be forcibly recruited into the gangs, and coming here as a way to avoid that.
PAGEMark, is that what you've found?
LOPEZYes. In fact, today, in fiscal 2014, 84 percent of those children unaccompanied who are apprehended at the border are teenagers. And most of those are 16 and 17-year-old boys. Now when you take a look at some of the changes, some of the big increase have been among children under 12 and also girls. So we're seeing some change in the demographics. But teens still dominate the numbers.
PAGEI've got to say it's been shocking to see some of these pictures of kids getting -- loading on buses. And some of them are just practically barely out of diapers, it seems. There are toddlers and really little children involved, although also some of these teenagers. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've been taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Broken Arrow, Okla., and talk to Kevin. Kevin, I love the name of your town.
KEVINThank you. Thank you very much. A couple of questions for the panel. Some new terminology has been used here, unauthorized versus illegal. Aren't they illegal until they deemed legal? Second, why don't we do incremental changes to immigration reform instead of holding out for comprehensive? Congress was designed to do things incrementally and slowly. Why don't we address things like that?
PAGEAll right, Kevin. Thanks so much for your call. First, just on the issue of nomenclature. Talk about the difference. Is there a difference between talking about someone who's undocumented and calling someone illegal?
ROSENBLUMWell, some of these kids have -- will be eligible for a legal visa, you know, for either asylum or special immigrant juvenile status. So they would not be illegal. And they're, you know, their status isn't fully determined until they go through the hearing process. So undocumented is sort of a more generic term that reflects, you know, the fact that we don't know what the status is of a lot of these kids.
PAGEBut some of the undocumented people will turn out to not be eligible for these programs and will end up being here illegally.
ROSENBLUMRight. They'll be unauthorized and deportable.
PAGEAnd, Laura, what about the issue of -- why doesn't Congress proceed incrementally instead of with a big plan?
MECKLERWell, it's all well and good to do incrementally unless it's your piece that gets, you know, put off for a future day. So what -- generally speaking, when people talk about doing incremental immigration, they talk about putting off the most politically difficult piece, which is some sort of legal status or path to citizenship for the people who are in the country illegally.
MECKLERSo if you're an advocate or your one of those people, you don't want incremental reform, because that means that the -- all the stuff that big business wants and the other people -- the farming community wants -- all the things that are helping to move this bill along will essentially get done and then you'll be left by yourself. So that's why people are not willing to do it incrementally.
PAGENow here's an email from Pam who writes us from Gilford, N.H. And she relates a question that we've had several listeners raise in emails and phone calls. She writes, "When are we going to admit that our own drug problems here have seriously contributed to the violence in Central and South America? Anyone who loves their children would do as these families have done to remove them from violence. It is distressing to me that we have depersonalized them by calling them illegal immigrants rather than refugee women and children who need protection." What about the question of the degree to which America's drug problems contribute to this situation, Carl?
MEACHAMSure. I mean, look, what's happening now is definitely a symptom of greater issues happening in the region and in the U.S. But what's interesting on the drug side is that in the United States, you've had legalization movements or initiatives all over, most recently the one in Colorado. And definitely you have different attitudes sort of showing themselves and expressing themselves or materializing themselves in policy. The region is experimenting with some of those issues. In Uruguay, they've legalized marijuana.
MEACHAMAnd in Central America, they're really starting to deal with this and question if the policies that they've had in the past are actually adequate or able to deal with some of the issues that contribute to the violence and the crime. But the United States is put into a pretty funny place because, on the one hand, we promote a zero-tolerance policy around the world and in Central America and in South America, and here in the U.S. we're starting to legalize marijuana in different places. So we're definitely sort of at a point, as far as policies is concerned, where we're going to have to sort of develop a more consistent approach to these issues.
MEACHAMThese issues, as we well know, have a fallout that has to do with the children and the violence and the crime involved as well.
ROSENBLUMTwo quick points on this. General Kelly, the head of Southcom for the U.S. military, estimates that 80 percent of the violence in Central America is directly related to U.S. drug imports. And the other point is that, since 2001, we've deported 150,000 convicted criminals to Central America.
PAGEI want to thank our panel for joining us this hour. We could obviously have this discussion go on for another hour. Laura Meckler, Mark Hugo Lopez, Marc Rosenblum, Carl Meacham, thank you so much for joining us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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