Editorial Advisory Panel Member William Peterson describes how the United States is facing a growing humanitarian crisis involving a massive influx of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in their home countries.
The Southern border of the US with Mexico has always been somewhat porous, with numbers of illegal immigrants crossing into the US fluctuating according to the state of the economy. Over the last six months, however, United States Immigration officials have seen thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the Mexico-US border in dramatically increasing numbers.
Federal officials are estimating that as many as 40,000 children have crossed the border into Texas and that, at the current rate, that number could swell to 90,000 by the end of the year. As such, the United States is currently dealing with the largest humanitarian crisis it has seen in recent memory.
United States Immigration officials confirm that in the last eight months, 34,611 unaccompanied children have crossed the US-Mexico border into the US from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This number is more than 10 times higher than those experienced in recent years. The sharp increase in numbers is thought to be the result of increasing violence in all three of those countries related to the increase of organised gangs, which have grown in power and influence as economic conditions decline owing to the growing influence of the drug trade.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of Honduras, has described the fleeing children as being: "displaced by war."
This massive influx has put added strain on the immigration system, with roughly 52,000 minors having been detained by US immigration officials for unlawful crossing of the border with Mexico since October 2013.
The challenge faced by US Immigration officials is unprecedented and formidable, to say the least. Congressman Matt Salmon, Republican representative for Arizona's 5th Congressional District, characterises the situation: "They (the children) are saying that they all have incredible fear. What we saw with these unaccompanied children from Central America is just the first wave."
Federal officials in the US have reportedly already opened three military bases to house the children while they try to figure out where, and who, to send them back to. Efforts to return the children are seen to be both a logistical and legal nightmare, and are likely to take years to resolve successfully.
The situation first became public recently when photos of children packed together in holding cells were posted anonymously on social media websites. Click here for images. US Immigration is currently working with both state and local officials, and emergency managers to respond to the growing need for the provision of suitable facilities to provide long-term housing and care for the child refugees.
On June 27, Dallas County, Texas Judge Clay Jenkins unveiled a plan calling for Dallas County to house and care for as many as 2,000 children who crossed the Mexico-US border, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News. Judge Jenkins stated he was working on a plan with Federal official from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of Homeland Security.
The plan reportedly would be centred: "In the City of Dallas and an unnamed second city inside the county, according to Judge Jenkins. "My hope is that when Dallas County steps up, the state and others will step up as well," he said at a news conference.
The proposed Dallas County plan is being reviewed by the US Department of Health and Human Services, according to a department spokesman who asked not to be identified. "Organisations, communities and states have offered to help with this humanitarian response, and we are also evaluating facilities proposed by other state and local partners," the spokesman wrote in an email.
William Peterson is Senior Consultant, Strategic Goverment Resources, former Regional Administrator FEMA Region 6, Founding Member US Branch IFE, USA, and a Member of CRJ's Editorial Advisory Panel. He will be expanding upon this subject in the next issue of CRJ (10:1 - published in September 2014).