Monday, October 23, 2006

Undocumented Children

Today's Washington Post ran this article on undocumented children who are detained along the U.S. Mexico border. The system that cares for the children, part of HHS, tries to reunite kids who have attempted to cross the border with their parents. In many cases, however, the parents or other relatives are undocumented, and are reluctant to risk getting apprehended and deported themselves. In many cases, the children stay at these centers and eventually have an immigration hearing and returned to their home country.

Like so many articles run by the Post on immigration, this one offers no perspective to the issue it reports. For instance, although the number of children attempting to cross the border has risen significantly in the last few years, it has been a long tradition for young men (from about age 13 on) to make their first trip to the U.S. for work, regardless of whether their fathers are working (or have worked) in the U.S. The significant change is the gender undocumented children. In the past, families would simply not allow daughters to try to cross the border, as it is much too dangerous.

It appears that the increased security at the border is actually encouraging young people to migrate. Once they make it into the U.S., the parents of these children are unlikely to go home for visits, because crossing the border has become very difficult. When their children are old enough to try the trip, they head north so that they can be with their parents.

The article also makes a passing comment about parents sending babies across the border with coyotes (who escort immigrants across the border). What they do not discuss is why someone would send their baby across the border. When I was living in Mexico in 1999, I met a woman who I will call Sylvia who had received papers for herself and all of her children, except for her infant daughter. Her husband had received amnesty in 1986 through the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and the family had waited seven long years to reunite. Despite the fact that they had worked with the system, the INS refused to make an exception for the baby, and told them they would have to wait possibly another 6-8 years for her documents. Given this option, Sylvia decided to send her infant daughter across the border with a cousin so that they could live together in the U.S. while waiting for the baby's papers. This man not be the reason why all parents send their infants across the border with coyotes, but my guess is that many are in this situation (otherwise, they would cross the border with the baby themselves).

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