...But President Trump has decided to get tough on many of the 60,000 Central American children who arrive at our border each year begging for safety after fleeing some of the most dangerous places on earth. His executive orders, and memos from the Department of Homeland Security on how to interpret them, could strip this special treatment from the roughly 60 percent of unaccompanied children who have a parent already living in the United States. If Kendra and Roberto were just entering the United States now, they would fall into this group; instead they kept their protections and were eventually united with their mother, a house painter in Los Angeles.
Parents like her, the argument goes, are exploiting benefits established to help children who really are alone here. The administration has threatened to deport parents who send for their children or prosecute them for hiring smugglers.
Last week Mr. Trump’s press secretary said the president’s intention was to prioritize the deportation of immigrants who “represent a threat to public safety.” Supporters say he’s upholding the law. But these children are not threats, and there are many ways to preserve the integrity of our immigration laws while treating them humanely.
D.H.S. hasn’t fully explained how it will deal with children reclassified as “accompanied” if a parent steps forward to claim them. “There is a range of how bad this might be,” says Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission.
But it could be pretty bad. In recent years, up to 90 percent of unaccompanied Central American kids have willingly turned themselves over to Border Patrol agents, knowing they would be cared for. Now they will go to great lengths to avoid detection, walking through deserts for days, risking dehydration, or traveling stuffed into hidden compartments in cars or trucks, where they can suffocate.
Smuggling fees will escalate. When that happens, smugglers often collect half in the home country and require children to work off the other half as indentured servants. Experts expect to see more cases like the one in 2014, when federal agents rescued eight Guatemalan teenagers from a trailer park in Ohio, where they’d been held captive by smugglers and forced to work at an egg farm.
Children will be afraid to admit they have parents here, as they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the government often told parents to retrieve apprehended children, only to deport the whole family when they showed up.
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