Review of Proposed Solutions for the Unaccompanied Children Crisis

Proposed Solutions to the Unaccompanied Children Crisis

Yesterday Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced new legislation to stop federal funding from going towards the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA ) program as a solution to the recent surge of unaccompanied children seeking to enter the United States.

DACA is seen by several conservative groups as being the chief explanation for why there has been a recent surge in unaccompanied children attempting to enter the United States. However the surge in unaccompanied children is better explained by an increase in violence in Central America and a desire for family reunification.

Even if DACA explained the recent surge, Senator Cruz should be aware that no federal funds go towards the management of the DACA program. The DACA program is funded by user fees; currently set at $465. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers DACA, is unique in being funded almost entirely by user fees. If only that were the case with the rest of the federal government!

In short this means the Cruz’s proposed legislation would not affect the operation of the DACA program. It would nonetheless harm several migrants holding humanitarian statuses. The second portion of Senator Cruz’s legislative proposal is worded in such a way that it could deny work authorization to both DACA recipients and holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Senator Cruz may prefer that less humanitarian migrants reside in the United States but surely he should agree that so long as they are here it is preferable that they work to maintain themselves instead of being forced to rely on government welfare. Why then does he wish to force humanitarian migrants to rely on government welfare? So long as these humanitarian migrants are with us they should be allowed to work to pay for their own expenses and minimize taxpayer burden.

The Texan senator is not alone in granting proposals to solve the recent surge of unaccompanied children. The Obama administration has requested an additional $3.7 billion in funding to increase border enforcement, hire additional legal staff, provide for the care of these children, and other expenses. The chief problem with this proposal is that it focuses almost entirely on the short term and, as a libertarian, I’m extremely doubtful of its cost efficiency. $295 million of the emergency fund would go towards addressing long term issues driving humanitarian migration from Central America but no accountability mechanism exists and actual details of the long term plan are missing. What guarantee is there that these billions won’t end up being misused?

The Obama administration has also mused with proposals to use expedited processing for these unaccompanied children. Currently Mexican nationals receive expedited processing and are sent back almost immediately after being presented to US border patrol authorities, but non-Mexican nationals are processed differently under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). While expedited processing may work with Mexican nationals, whose home nation borders the United States, it is less appropriate when dealing with Central Americans and other non-Mexican nationals. Significant portions of the unaccompanied children are eligible for relief under existing humanitarian migrant programs and many of them would find themselves denied access to these programs under expedited processing. The current process may take longer but that is a worthwhile price to minimize the amount of humanitarian migrants being denied entry.

The Obama administration is not alone in calling for expedited processing of the unaccompanied children. Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) and Congressman Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) are introducing a new bill today which will do just that in addition to raising the bar for unaccompanied children to be granted access to a humanitarian migrant status. This is all too reminiscent of how Australia has been handling its own humanitarian migrant crisis; instead of accepting more refugees or creating programs to quicken their integration into civic life the country has pursued a policy of making it increasingly difficult for these migrants to enter lawfully. Will the US also follow in Australia’s footsteps and try to relocate these migrants into ‘a safe third party country’ like Haiti?

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Congressman Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) have introduced a similar proposal, the HUMANE Act . Representatives Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Goodlatte (R-Virginia) have both already made a similar proposal, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act ; Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has a review of that particular proposal up for those interested. The text of these proposals differs only cosmetically and all suffer from the same conceit that the answer is to simply deny lawful pathways for migration.

The best response in the short run is to advocate for the Obama administration to re-designate Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador for TPS. As I have noted previously, most of Central America has received relief under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program previously. A significant portion of Central American migrants in the US are present under the TPS program and if the Obama administration re-designated these countries then the children could enter lawfully and reunite with their families here.

TPS Designated Countries

Some might be skeptical about using TPS to resolve the present crisis; might it not encourage further waves of migrants from these countries? El Salvador and Honduras have both been TPS designated countries and are significant sources of accompanied children. Then again Nicaragua received TPS designation at the same time as Honduras and provides a negligible amount of unaccompanied children. Guatemala meanwhile has not been designated TPS eligible. Previous designation of the TPS status may have had some effect on the number of migrants trying to enter from those countries, but it begs the question of why there are so few Nicaraguans among them .

The above proposal is ultimately only a keyhole solution for the immediate future. In the long run TPS and other humanitarian statuses should be reformed to allow lawful family reunification. Contrary to what some conservative commentators believe, a significant portion of non-citizens from Central America are not illegal aliens but instead hold TPS and other humanitarian statuses. A new pathway should also be created to allow minor children to be sponsored by their extended relatives or to make adoption easier. Families will try to reunify regardless of what barriers are placed between them and it is therefore best to promote policies that provide a legal way to do so.

An earlier draft of this post was posted at California College Libertarians.

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

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