What you need to know: Undocumented migrant families arriving to the Valley
By CHELCEY ADAMI Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2014 12:40 am
As the first buses transporting immigrants illegally in the country arrived to the Valley on Wednesday, many noted there has been a lot of misapprehension and fear regarding the situation. Here’s some common questions answered on the topic.
Who is coming to the Valley?
The bus that arrived Wednesday contained just under 140 women and children. They were brought here for processing since Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has been overwhelmed by the large influx of people coming from Central America. The groups arriving to the Valley do not include unaccompanied children but rather parents, entirely mothers so far, and their children. Groups of up to 140 people are scheduled to come every three days for about a month, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said, but cautioned that the situation is very “fluid” and subject to change.
While each case is different, the majority of the the children and families are coming due to poverty and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to a recent U.S. Department of Home Security document.
The numbers caught at the border have almost doubled in less than a year, and the top three cities sending children to the U.S. are all located in Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador is trailing not far behind in murder rates, only surpassed by Belize and Venezuela in 2012.
In terms of poverty, the three countries are some of the poorest in Latin American with 30 percent of the population in Honduras living on less than $2 a day, according to World Bank poverty data. Twenty-six percent of the population in Guatemala lives on less than $2 a day, and 17 percent of El Salvador’s population lives on that as well.
Human smugglers also misinform families that if they send children or cross illegally into the U.S. with them, they will be able to stay.
What happens once they get here?
The processing of people illegally entering the country from Central America is part of the same process that’s been followed for years.
“Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, these people must be afforded due process until their administrative immigration case is fully adjudicated,” according to ICE. “If individuals are issued orders of Expedited Removal, it may still take some time to remove individuals as (Department of Homeland Security) may need to work with their home countries to obtain the necessary travel documents.”
After Customs and Border Protection processes the immigrants, the majority will be transferred to ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, “where appropriate custody determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing national security and public safety,” according to an ICE statement. For example, anyone with a criminal background or communicable disease would not be released.
It’s estimated each case will take between two and three days before the immigrant qualifies for supervised release and continues on to meet with family in other parts of the country. Those released are required to report to a local ICE office where their cases will be managed, and ICE will contact those who don’t report to them.
Why don’t we just deport them immediately?
The law does not allow Homeland Security to immediately remove children or families if they are from countries other than Canada or Mexico.
Are they staying here? Will they be abandoned in the Valley heat at bus stops?
The only way any of them would stay here is if they had a direct family contact here, an ICE official said, but so far it’s not believed that the majority, if any, will stay in the area or even Southern California. Also, ICE must contact the person that the family is traveling to meet and travel arrangements must be coordinated and solidified before the family is released.
“There is a misconception that the federal agency is going to leave women and children in 111 degrees at the bus station,” said Lombardo Amaya, local Border Patrol union president. “There’s no way to release people unless they have address, name and flight ticket to go to that location.”
Are they bringing diseases?
While there have been a few reports of immigrants quarantined for disease in San Diego, none of the families in the Valley have shown signs of communicable diseases, Amaya said. A child and three women were checked by a doctor for fever, but overall it’s “regular business as usual,” Amaya said. The immigrants are screened by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before they leave Texas, and then also receive medical screenings once they arrive here.
“We’re educated and prepared to deal with possible contamination and exposure, not only to scabies but also to the New River,” Amaya said. “What could be worse than working the New River?”
Do taxpayers have to pay for their care and transportation?
While taxpayers are paying for their meals and care while they’re in custody, each family is responsible for paying for transportation to their ultimate destination.
The complicated situation is being addressed through various short-term and long-term approaches.
Department of Homeland Security has launched at $1 million campaign to try to discourage people from coming or sending children to the border, and beginning Monday, 233 billboards will go up and 6,500 TV and radio spots will air in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
President Barack Obama has also stated that he is seeking executive action for an immigration reform bill, according to the White House.
And DHS is building more detention capacity for families and expediting processing, according to recent written testimony by CBP Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Kevin Oaks. The Department of Justice is also temporarily reassigning immigration judges to handle the additional caseload via teleconferencing and adding personnel and resources to target smuggling organizations that are facilitating the exodus.
U.S. leaders have also been meeting with leaders in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico to discuss the situation and have “announced that the U.S. will be providing a range of new assistance to the region, including $9.6 million in additional funding for Central American governments to receive and reintegrate their repatriated citizens, and a new $40 million U.S. Agency for International Development program in Guatemala over five years to improve citizen security,” Oaks disclosed. “An additional $161.5 million will be provided this year under the Central American Regional Security Initiative to further enable Central American countries to respond to the region’s most pressing security and governance challenges.”