One might well argue that providing a safe and nurturing refuge for the more than 60,000 young illegal immigrants who crossed the border into the United States in 2014 is the humane and honorable thing to do. Unless, of course, if one regards the flood of youngsters as little more than a cynical exploitation of the flaws in a broken immigration policy whereby many Central Americans have come to believe rightly or wrongly that if they persist they will be rewarded with some kind of work in the United States that will eventually lead to amnesty.
The Department of Homeland Security has considerable latitude in terms of when and how to prosecute a case of illegal entry into the U.S., but the White House has preferred to view the surge in would-be immigrants as a “humanitarian crisis” that has to be dealt with on several levels. It has inevitably created a task force and called for a $1.4 billion budget to deal with the problem. This approach raises concerns among conservatives that the White House is de facto creating a path for legalizing the status of a large group of individuals who are indisputably lawbreakers and also providing considerable taxpayer support to enable them to remain in this country.
For those who have not followed developments closely, there has been an enormous surge in the numbers of illegal immigrant children crossing into the United States from Mexico. Mexican children are quickly deported but Central Americans and adult women who are “Other Than Mexican” accompanied by minors are allowed to remain. In 2014 a total of 68,541 unaccompanied children from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras crossed into the United States in a bid to find black economy work or eventually obtain green cards from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. As recently as 2009 fewer than 4,000 made the crossing, so the increase is significant, so much so that it threatens to overwhelm Border Patrol and immigration court resources.
Advocates for the would-be immigrants claim that the surge in numbers in due to an increase in violence and poverty in Central America, which is difficult to document individually but it almost certainly true for some regions of the countries in question. The three countries in question are among the top five worldwide in murder rates, for example, and all of them possess large and powerful criminal gangs. The White House has accepted that line, citing the danger of exploitation or abuse if the children were to be repatriated immediately and permitting the would-be immigrants to demonstrate that they are in fact refugees or asylum seekers.
Critics are not convinced, however. Some note that lurid tales of rape and mistreatment are easy to contrive and hard to document while at least one assessment indicates that many illegals are convinced that they will be receiving “permisos” to stay because of the widely reported relaxed immigration policies supported by the president. Indeed, President Obama employed executive authority in 2012 to initiate his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals directive, which was basically an eventual amnesty plan for children under the age of 16 who arrived in the U.S. prior to 2010. Many consider DACA to be illegal as it changed immigration law without the consent of Congress. In short, it is possible to believe what one chooses to believe regarding the motivation for the mass immigration, which in no way mitigates its real impact.
After being detained at or near the border the children, most of whom appear to be teenagers, are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which places them in one of 116 settlement centers for further processing. Many of the centers are privately run and paid for by HHS grants. In the centers, the children receive medical care, are fed, housed, taught basic English and provided with amenities to make their stay more comfortable. The transition in the government financed centers averages six weeks and the cost to the taxpayer in 2014 exceeded $1 billion.
While the children are in the centers, the paperwork is prepared for the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement to arrange for a transfer to a sponsor, frequently but not always a family member already residing either legally or illegally in the United States. During the first half of 2014 37,000 children were transferred from HHS facilities to sponsors. Given the problems with documentation of many illegal immigrants, it is reportedly often difficult to determine if sponsors are actually family members.
After that, the children are scheduled for an eventual immigration court hearing, but in many districts the docket is overloaded with cases and few of them actually show up. At a July 22, 2014 immigration court hearing in Dallas 90% of the children were no-shows. Even though the children are subsequently cited for deportation in most cases they effectively drop out of the enforcement system and disappear from a legal point of view. In 2013, only 1,800 child would-be immigrants from Central America were actual deported.
During the time when the children are living with sponsors they are provided an education by local school districts which per U.S. Department of Education mandate cannot query the immigration status or even the residency of the unaccompanied children. Nor can they insist that the child confirm that he or she has received required immunizations, putting the entire school community at risk.
Local school districts cannot even verify age for educational purposes, which nearly all state Departments of Education normally require. The Mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts, wondering why her district was responsible for twice as many illegal immigrant children in 2014 as in 2013, noted that some of the students entered in the local high school had grey hair and wrinkles. One turned out to be 35 years old.
The U.S. Department of Education has made it clear that local school districts are expected to provide an education up to high school level because it is a “right” and most districts do indeed take the responsibility very seriously. The first wave of students from among the illegal immigrants is now half way through its first year of school, so it is possible to get some idea of the costs involved beyond the $1.4 billion that the federal government budgeted for its settlement centers.
The cost of educating one student varies from school district to school district. In one Virginia county 1,130 Central American students were placed in the school district for the academic year 2014. The average cost for educating a single student in that county is nearly $15,000, which means that the local taxpayers have to come up with nearly $17 million for the students that have been sent to them by the federal government. But the $15 million is only the most visible part of the costs. The new students do not speak English so they need more expensive bi-lingual teachers, which one study reveals cost 30% more per student. The children are mostly of high school age but 70% are illiterate and cannot do simple math so they are not prepared to take most courses in the U.S. They are consequently placed in special education classes that are also more expensive. In some schools the immigrant students are bussed in separately and as they generally come from poor families they received free meals and other benefits. Some have been traumatized by their experiences back at home and travel to the U.S. so they need special medical and psychiatric care.
New York City public schools are being forced to educate 2,350 illegal immigrants at a cost of nearly $21,000 per student, totaling nearly $50 million system-wide. New York State’s costs are $147 million. One estimate suggests that the White House program to use the school system to take care of the Central American children who have crossed into the U.S. illegally costs local taxpayers $761 million annually nationwide.
The Obama White House tendency is to transform any essentially political or legal issue into a humanitarian crisis, permitting the rules to be suspended while the Administration makes up its mind what to do. As is all too familiar, bombing Syria and Libya were conveniently described as “humanitarian interventions” and the issue of illegal immigration has been similarly turned on its head to make it more moral dilemma and less a rule-of-law issue.
What to do about Central American children who are taking advantage of a chaotic situation to enter the United States is certainly worth some honest discussion about options, but the Administration prefers to promote solutions that coincide with its essentially globalist world view. The current formula which incorporates throwing money at the problem through establishment of resettlement centers while at the same time creating an unfunded mandate for school districts nationwide does not solve the problem and does not stop the flow of would-be immigrants. All it really does is kick the can down the road a little farther while it avoids the real issue, which is what to do about controlling America’s borders and how to handle both the people seeking to enter and those who have already arrived in the United States illegally.