“If we had immigration reform,” McCain says, “we would secure our border, and we would be able to judge these people when they come across or when they seek to come across, rather than just have them come across and there they are.”
Pia Orrenius, a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, notes that immigration laws for asylum and green cards are more favorable to Central Americans than to Mexicans, and that the number of Mexicans trying to cross the border has been falling while the number of Central Americans rises. Because of those factors and the U.S. government’s policies on detaining citizens of non-neighboring countries, she says, the influx of Central American children is drastically affecting U.S. resources.
“All the institutional bias is against Mexicans and really in favor of Central Americans, so now you’re seeing this whole thing play out,” Orrenius says. “Where before we had all this economic immigration from Mexico that had a lot of economic benefits for the country as a whole ... now we’re transitioning into some kind of new status quo on the border where it’s more and more asylum seekers, more women and children, unaccompanied minors. And it’s really a bigger burden than we’ve ever had before.”
Christopher Wilson, a senior associate at the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, does research on the U.S.-Mexico border several times a year and says he is now hearing more often about children showing up at the border making claims for asylum.
“There’s definitely an uptick in people claiming credible fear, both from Mexico and Central America,” Wilson says. And there seems to be truth, he adds, in claims that violence is pushing kids north from Central America.
But the flood of unaccompanied minors has reached crisis levels so quickly that the academic community has not yet been able to pinpoint all the factors that are driving the mass migration, Wilson says.
“So the situation has gone from concerning and very important to dire, extremely quickly,” he says. “All of us are struggling to keep up with the facts on the ground in terms of best solutions. Whenever you have a situation like this where it’s one: a human crisis, and two: sheds a light on a systemic crisis, you need to work on two tracks.
“You need to work on one track to take care of the kids who continue to cross the border every day and on the other side you need to look at what flaws this is exposing in the overall architecture of how we deal with immigration.”