LOS ANGELES — Immigration advocates are carefully watching the political response to the child migrant crisis at the border as the situation exposes cracks in the immigration system that could have damaging effects on Latino communities.
For the groups gathered at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) conference here, the fate of the thousands of children caught at the border remained a constant concern.
The surge of more than 57,000 children across the U.S. border since October alone has resulted in a humanitarian crisis at the nation’s southwestern border, and it has posed a political conundrum for lawmakers pressed to stem the flow.
“For us, I think they can be seen as refugees and qualify for asylum,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of NCLR. “These kids have been through a terrible, dangerous and treacherous journey. Now that they’re here we need to make sure that our laws and our values are applied in the best way possible.”
Outside the conference, pro-immigration activists countered the opposition by gathering with signs and American flags on freeway overpasses throughout Los Angeles, embracing the region’s immigrant community.
Los Angeles will soon host some of the unaccompanied minors currently being held in the U.S. after Mayor Eric Garcetti announced this week that the city would be opening shelters to temporarily house the kids.
“This is a children’s crisis, and we have to ask ourselves who we are as Americans at moments like this,” Garcetti said Saturday at the conference.
President Obama is expected to meet with the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador next week to discuss the source of the problem that is driving the children to flee their home countries. Earlier this month, the president requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the issue, but Congress continues to stall in its response.
The timing is critical for all sides. House Speaker John Boehner has said he is not optimistic that Congress will take up the proposal before lawmakers leave for a scheduled month-long recess in August. But by the time lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, the initial emergency funding provided to the borderlands is expected to run out. Political will in Congress at that time will likely become an even greater obstacle than before, as the midterm elections draw near.
So far, lawmakers have introduced a proposal to speed up the deportation proceedings for the children coming from Central America by using the same screening process reserved for children who come to the U.S. from Mexico.
Congress enacted a bill in 2008 that extended protections to children coming from countries that do not share a border with the United States. Rather than being deported almost immediately — as is oftentimes the case for children from Mexico — Central American children are able to get their day in court to determine whether they have legitimate claims for asylum in the U.S.
Advocacy groups are pressing back against the proposal, cautioning that due process for the kids should not be rushed.
“The way they treat Mexican children is deplorable,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez said Saturday at the conference. “Let’s not extend that abuse to other children from Central America. We can do better as a nation.”