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Alone, Illegal and Underage: The Child Migrant Crisis

For the Department of Homeland Security, the administration made no acknowledgement of the spike in unaccompanied minors in its most recent budget request, but it called for $187 million more than enacted in fiscal 2014 for Customs and Border Protection, which apprehends, interviews and temporarily detains unaccompanied children caught crossing the border.

Obama also requested $19 million more for Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles applications for immigration benefits such as green cards and asylum. But the fiscal 2015 budget proposal calls for $255 million less for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which helps with immigration court proceedings and transportation for the children who cross without guardians.

Carter says his Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee may have to shift funding in its fiscal 2015 spending bill to ensure that DHS agencies have the resources needed to deal with the increased flow of unaccompanied minors — an issue, he adds, that makes his constituents “absolutely furious.”

“This has cropped up recently,” Carter says. “I thought we had the appropriations numbers right where we wanted them, but now we will be discussing this because it’s becoming a high-priority situation.”

His panel will release the text of its draft fiscal 2015 spending bill this week, ahead of a scheduled markup.

Cross-Cutting Problems

To effectively stem this crisis in the long run, Young says, the U.S. government must call on the cooperation of many federal agencies, including the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“It’s a very complicated situation that there’s not going to be any one single answer to. It’s going to require a lot of coordination,” she says. “It’s not just a migration issue, it’s not just a refugee issue, it’s a children’s issue. And that triggers all sorts of extra concerns.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation that would require DHS to ensure that social workers trained to handle children are available at border stations to screen and care for unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The congresswoman has also crafted a bill that would bar federal agencies from disqualifying relatives from taking custody of unaccompanied children solely because of the relative’s immigration status.

Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul has suggested also getting the Justice Department involved. McCaul, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, has been working with the department, as well as DHS officials including Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, to craft a bill that would heighten penalties for human smuggling.

Those who smuggle immigrants through McCaul’s home state often exploit children, sell them into sex slavery or take the kids on such perilous journeys that they die before ever making it across the border, the congressman says.

It is in Texas’ Rio Grande corridor, where the state dips farthest down to touch the Mexican cities of Matamoros and Reynosa, that most of the unaccompanied kids have been spilling over the border. And it was there, in the U.S. border town of McAllen that the Homeland Security secretary witnessed a Border Patrol station so packed with kids this month that he declared a “level-four condition of readiness” in the Rio Grande Valley the next day.

That was the official admission that federal resources had been overwhelmed by the influx of unaccompanied children.

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