LatinaLista — Fleeing life-threatening violence, extreme poverty or just wanting to be with their parents are reasons cited as to why there has been a 90 percent increase over last year of children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico making the dangerous journey to the United States by themselves.
While various immigrant advocates have been sounding the alarm over the past several years regarding the issue, it’s finally gotten the attention of Washington.
It’s because the increase, happening mainly at the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, is overwhelming local officials and has triggered recognition from the Obama administration that this influx of “unaccompanied alien children” is a humanitarian crisis. To address the crisis, the President has created an “interagency Unified Coordination Group.”
“(The purpose of the Unified Coordination Group) is to make sure we are maximizing coordination across the federal government in response to this humanitarian issue,” said Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Domestic Policy during a press call.
The federal agencies involved include the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Defense Department is also being tapped to provide the housing for the children.
Mark Greenberg, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said that barracks at San Antonio-based Lackland Air Force Base are prepared to house up to 1200 children, with 1,000 already in the facility that has been open for the past two weeks. A naval base will house 600 more children.
Greenberg noted that a non-profit, rather than military personnel, are responsible for operating the facility housing the children.
Though children, at any age, are considered vulnerable, these new arrivals are seen to be even more so.
“A greater percentage of children are younger than 13,” said Maria Woltjen, executive director and founder of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “And 40 percent are girls.”
The number of unaccompanied minors is predicted to reach 60,000 this year.
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said that his department would “continue to work closely with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to counter this recent surge in migrant children.”
However, no details were released as to what those measures encompass.
In the meantime, Greenberg, of the Administration for Children and Families, said that once the children are in U.S. custody they are interviewed to determine if they have family or sponsors in the country and every effort is made to reunite the children with their parents.
“Our focus is on properly addressing the immediate needs of these children,” said Greenberg.
“The (nature of the) humanitarian issue is what’s causing us to ramp up our efforts,” Muñoz said.