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Last Updated: 23 June 2014
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Rodríguez: Missing the Point on Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border

By José Rodríguez
State Senator José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

EL PASO, June 23 - The issue of immigration reform has been on the hot burner since the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2005.

Unfortunately, since then, Republican leadership in Washington D.C. has found every excuse to block immigration reform, even bipartisan common sense legislation like the Dream Act.

Recently, the 2014 Texas Republican Party adopted a platform calling for a prohibition of legalization for any undocumented person and for a repeal of the Texas law that allows Texas residents -- regardless of immigration status -- to pay in-state tuition. Now, the children fleeing violence in their home countries have become target number one for state Republican leadership calls for more border enforcement, despite any known evidence of increased criminal activity resulting from the wave of child refugees.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are blaming President Obama for the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border, stating, "… policies that were supposedly adopted for humanitarian reasons have produced a humanitarian disaster." Specifically, they blame the policy known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These statements are misleading and completely miss the mark. Never mind the issue of politicizing the suffering of children, or the fact that these children are not eligible for DACA, or that the Obama administration has deported vastly more immigrants than Bush and Clinton combined. While there has been a surge in unaccompanied minors at specific points along the Texas border, it's worth noting that, even with the recent increase, the Congressional Research Service reported that the overall number of migrants crossing the southern border of the U.S. without proper documents dropped 75 percent from 2000 to 2013.

Let's be absolutely clear. The unaccompanied minors arriving at our doorstep are fleeing violence and cartels in their home countries. This has nothing to do with DACA or any other policy that the Texas Republican leadership wants to blame on the President.

As the Center for American Progress points out, "The violence currently rocking Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is not only causing a refugee crisis in the United States. Every country in the region has also been affected as children are running for their lives and seeking safety wherever they can find it. According to the UNHCR, asylum requests from Honduran, El Salvadoran, and Guatemalan nationals have increased 712 percent in the neighboring nations of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize since 2009."

So what should be the U.S. government's response? For that matter, what is the Texas answer to the projected 90,000 unaccompanied minors coming to the southwest border by year's end? Before Texas spends $38 million unappropriated dollars on DPS enforcement, perhaps we should consider that the answer should be informed by the cause.

What is needed are not more "boots on the ground" or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents' daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand. In the short term, we need a humane way of detaining the children. We need legal services and humane shelters for the children as they navigate what the San Antonio Express-News correctly called a "byzantine" process for filing and pursuing asylum and humanitarian claims. At least some, if not the majority, of the $1.3 million per week authorized by state leadership should go to meeting the humanitarian needs of the children, including providing funding to community organizations like Annunciation House in El Paso, which already has served more than 300 refugees.

In the long term, we need comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system. Sending these child refugees back is essentially giving them a death sentence in many cases. Unfortunately, that is exactly what will happen for some of them under our current immigration system, especially those without legal counsel.

As I have said many times, the border is a region with many facets. Primarily, it represents opportunity for the U.S., given our rich culture and substantial trade and commerce. We must address the humanitarian crisis taking place and act thoughtfully, keeping the best interests of the children in mind.

José Rodríguez is state Senator for District 29 in Texas. The district includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural, and more than 350 miles of Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez was elected in 2010; he is Vice Chairman of the Jurisprudence Committee and is a member of the Criminal Justice, Veterans Affairs and Military Installations, and Government Organization committees.

Write José Rodríguez

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