Edinburg, Texas-A cell phone from a Spanish-speaking man who said he and others were locked in a house brought police to a dirt road on the outskirts of town. There they found three small houses used as “stash houses” to hide 117 illegal immigrants, including 10 children, who had just been smuggled across the Mexican border into the United States.
One of the homes had barred windows and a padlocked door. “Approximately 50 undocumented people were inside the residence,” said Edinburg Police Chief Rolando Castaneda. There was no running water, very minimal food; it was pretty tough for them.”
Of the 10 boys locked with the adults inside the house, officials said, nine were unaccompanied, meaning they were traveling without their parents or adult guardians. “They were being treated like animals,” said Castaneda. “There was a lot of desperation, there was a lot of fear in their eyes.” All the children were taken to a local hospital, apparently suffering from dehydration.
Child Detentions Double:
Federal authorities said the number of children detained after illegally entering the United States is rising dramatically.
According to the U.S. Department of Human and Human Services, 8,327 unaccompanied minors were taken into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement from October 2011 to May 2012, after being picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs’ officials. That number is more than double the 4,016 unaccompanied migrant children detained during the same period last fiscal year.
“Why this is happening we’re still trying to figure out. The kids are primarily coming from Central America, with Guatemala being the top sending country, El Salvador the second,” said Wendy Young, the executive director of Kids in Need of Defense, a legal aid group.
Child advocates suggested many of these children, mostly teenage boys, are fleeing drug and gang violence in Central America.
Another theory is that Central American and Mexican parents already living in the United States illegally, and who are afraid to return home and face the prospect of being caught by U.S. border officials, will often hire smugglers to bring children to them, paying thousands of dollars per child.
“Children are typically not the ones making the decision to come to the United States. Either someone is forcing them to leave their country or somebody is sending them,” said Young. “As soon as child crosses the international border alone, that should be a red flag to us that the child is in need and to remember to treat these children as children first and immigrants second.”
The U.S. Border Patrol reported that so far this fiscal year it has caught 15,590 unaccompanied immigrant minors, compared to 10,776 this time in 2011 and 13,267 this time in 2010.
Typically, children from Mexico apprehended after crossing the border are quickly turned over to Mexican authorities for a hasty return to their country. Children from Central America are more likely to be taken into U.S. custody until their immigration status is determined and asylum claims can be adjudicated.
Shelters Stretched Thin:
With the rapid rise in detentions of unaccompanied minors this year, federal authorities have had to scramble to find enough shelters to properly house them until relatives or guardians can be located to take custody. One decision making headlines recently was the use of barracks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to temporarily house some 200 immigrant children.
Normally, U.S. Border Patrol agents would quickly hand over any unaccompanied children they catch to other authorities. But recently they’ve had to spend a lot more time and resources caring for the children while officials try to find bed space elsewhere.
Stephanie Goodman, of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said state officials received pleas for help this year from the U.S. government. “We got a call in late February this year saying, Hey, there’s an influx of children coming in and we may need your help in expanding capacity,” she said. “In early March it was sort of a mad dash-Can you help us set up shelters in gymnasiums? Things like that, because we have kids sleeping in Border Patrol jails cells.”
Children advocates worry that the rise in children held by government will make it difficult to properly house all of them and to find enough volunteer attorneys to represent them before immigration judges.
“It is really important to find a lawyer for them who can take the time, hear their story, develop trust with the child, develop a level of comfort and help them sort out do they want to stay or do they want to go home?” “The system is being stretched thin. We’re in a crisis mode right now.”
Customs and Border Protection issued a written statement saying that while overall Border Patrol apprehensions have decreased 53 percent in the last three years, the Department of Homeland Security, “has experienced an increase in UAC (unaccompanied alien children) apprehensions compared to the same period in 2011. This increase; however, is not inconsistent with historic migration trends and patterns, which are cyclical and vary month by month over a year.”
With statistics released by the federal government suggesting an increased number of unaccompanied children are making the perilous trip now, many officials and child advocates wonder if this is a temporary situation or if more long-term child-care solutions are required.
The above information was taken from an article written by, Mark Potter, of MSNBC.msn.com