After a silence, an increasing number of immigrant children and families move north north toward the U.S.-Mexico border, signaling the possibility of another humanitarian crisis and the early challenge of the incoming Biden government.
The flow of these migrants, who have historically sought refuge at the border, has slowed over the past year after the Trump government implemented policy changes that prevented access to the asylum system. The coronavirus epidemic, which triggered a wave of closures in Latin America, has also prevented people from traveling.
But in October, 4,630 unaccompanied children were detained by border guards, up from 712 in April, while 4501 migrants traveling as families arrived in October, up from 716 in April, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
According to a recent statement from a federal court, about 1,000 children were detained in mid-November over a six-day period.
Experts say this rise is a problem for the incoming Biden administration because it follows a pattern that has ended in even bigger fluctuations in recent years, such as the child migrant crisis facing the Obama administration in 2014 or a larger wave of families . unaccompanied young people who have arrived for asylum since 2018.
“I don’t see a recipe that isn’t as flooded as we were at 14 and 18,” said Ron Vitiello, a former chief of the border guard who later served as executive director of immigration and customs under President Trump.
Experts say there may be a number of reasons for the recent growth, including a slump in Latin American economies and a hurricane that hit parts of Honduras and Guatemala in the fall.
The border policy introduced by the U.S. into the pandemic in March, which allows immigration agents to turn back the majority of migrants, has encouraged border crossers to try again to avoid arrest, government officials said.
An increasing number of children and families have occasionally backed up at border checkpoints – planning to accommodate single adults for hours in tight neighborhoods instead of children for days. In a decade-long court case, youth lawyers said in a recent court filing that nearly three dozen children, including six infants, were being held for longer than the three-day limit allowed by government guidelines.
CBP did not respond to a comment.
Children’s lawyers said detainees at the Texas border station said they had been denied hand disinfectant and soap and described that there was little access to masks and other protective equipment.
One 8-year-old boy said children should not keep social distance. “When we’re in line, we sit or stand close together,” he said according to the submission. Another boy said he was so crowded in the cell where he was being held that he had to sleep while sitting.
In a separate federal lawsuit, CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said border checkpoints were not designed to allow social distancing and the government had to quickly send children back to their homeland without being able to seek asylum from them. He said the child migrants did not follow Covid-19 safety procedures as instructed by the agents.
Even more migrants could arrive after the election of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who said he would destroy much of Mr Trump’s border policy.
“Typically, as the administration has changed, we’ve found that over the years, it’s a classic pull factor,” said Mike Fisher, a former head of the border guard who oversaw the agency’s response to the first wave of families and children. at the border in 2014.
The Biden Transitional Team has expressed concern about the increase in asylum seekers arriving at the border and is trying to decide which policies and when to change in order to deliver on Mr Biden’s campaign promises without giving the appearance of leniency. the case.
Biden’s transitional team did not respond to the request for comment.
Mr Biden’s promise to end the Migrant Protection Protocols program, often known in Mexico as Remain, could be a problem. The program forces migrants to wait in Mexico, often in dangerous border towns, for the duration of their U.S. immigration court cases, rather than allowing them to live and work in America.
The program, which began in early 2019, has sent more than 68,000 people back to Mexico since October.
A larger wave of migrants could mean an early crisis for the Biden government, which could hamper Mr Biden’s other immigration goals, including the path to the legal status of young immigrants.
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In two humanitarian crises in recent years, the Obama administration has responded by transporting migrant children to military bases, while the Trump administration has allowed families into U.S. border communities, occasionally throwing them into parks or bus stops.
In several cities on or near the border, emergency shelters — such as one in an empty thrift store in Yuma, Arizona, and another at the aircraft hanger in Deming (NM) during World War II — quickly reached capacity.
“The political space available to bring about real change is shrinking significantly because they will be able to cope quickly with real growth that may point to border issues and critics may say,‘ Look, these people are soft, ’” said Doris Meissner, Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. party program director, an impartial think tank who was commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton.
The Biden team is considering temporarily leaving Mr. Trump’s pandemic in place to return most migrants to Mexico shortly after crossing the border, people familiar with the matter said.
Immigrant advocates have protested against this policy because it does not allow migrants to apply for asylum, potentially endangering people fleeing political or other oppression.
A federal court in Washington ruled in November that the policy could not be applied to unaccompanied children after a request from the U.S. Civil Rights Association. The Trump administration asked a district court to stop the decision.
Biden’s team discussed creating humanitarian exceptions to the policy, for example, for children, people said.
– You have already said that a pandemic is the most important issue, so it can be politically difficult to get rid of [the border policy] in full, ”said Jennifer Podkul, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for Children in Need of the Immigration Advocacy Group. But he added: Mr Biden “can say that children, families should be considered exempt from humanitarian relief”.
Write to him Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia. Cal[email protected] and Michelle Hackman at Michelle. [email protected]
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