One of the problems the White House faces with the huge influx of unaccompanied minors into South Texas is that it has spent weeks citing poverty and gang violence in Central America as its explanation for why all these kids are fleeing northward.
Today the administration announced that it would take new measures to expedite the removal of these kids. But if they had good reasons for fleeing, then how can the administration justify expediting their removal back to the places they fled?
As it happens, today’s announcement is in some ways justifiable in policy terms. Yet the above question still stands as a legitimate one. And that gets to the crux of the problem the White House faces — in political and policy terms.
Here’s what was announced today, courtesy of Elise Foley:
The Obama administration plans to “surge” U.S. immigration enforcement, open facilities to house families and provide additional support to Central American governments in response to a massive increase in unaccompanied minors and others crossing the border, officials announced on Friday.[...]
The government plans to increase its capacity to deal with those immigrants as quickly as possible, officials told reporters on a conference call Friday. There will be additional immigration judges and officers to process deportation and asylum cases. [...]
The White House is also trying to combat misinformation about U.S. immigration policies. Vice President Joe Biden is currently in Central America, where he will reiterate that unaccompanied minors are not eligible to stay under such programs as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which applies to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Julia Preston adds that “ankle bracelets that allow enforcement agents to track migrants at all times will be more broadly used.”
As I noted the other day, the administration’s challenge in addressing this crisis — in political and policy terms — is to balance humanity and law and order. Today, it’s leaning harder than it had previously into law and order. But this is actually the right response in terms of policy, as even immigration advocates agree. That’s because, as also noted previously, it really is true that one of the reasons for the surge in migrating minors is the perception that under current policy, kids will be allowed to stay.
Republicans have cleverly morphed this fact into evidence that Obama’s de-prioritization of removals of kids previously brought here illegally — the DREAMers — is to blame for the chaos. But under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the new arrivals are not entitled to protected status, and any wrong perceptions to the contrary — which are apparently being fomented by human traffickers — is not a reflection on the inherent moral or substantive worth of DACA itself as a policy.
But Republican dishonesty aside, the mis-perception that kids will be allowed to stay appears to be real. So the administration’s moves today — expediting removals and toughening up the process — were necessary not just to solve the crisis itself, but to dissuade more kids from coming.
I was on today’s conference call, and I didn’t get to ask my question: If the administration says these kids are fleeing poverty and violence, is there any sense of how many of them are, or might end up being, eligible for relief from removal, on the grounds that sending them back puts them at risk? The administration is also promising to send more specialists in asylum cases to the region, to speed up determination on whether kids are genuinely fleeing conditions that would make them eligible for protected status here.
And so, the thing to watch next — and you can bet humanitarian organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be watching very closely — is how humane, and how legally sound, the new expedited removal system proves. The current chaos at the border has given Republicans a lot of good imagery with which to pound the administration, which is partly responsible for forcing it into today’s stricter enforcement posture. But depending on how this is implemented, you could see other stories emerge — of kids getting sent back into turbulent or horrific conditions — that are awful from a whole different angle.