Immigration Reform

Undocumented Youth, Immigration Reform, and Public Policy in the United States

Christine Souza, December 2014

The growing population of immigrants, undocumented and documented alike, has become an increasing issue in America. Deciding whether to deport or naturalize the undocumented immigrants here now, as well as taking action on the immense number of unaccompanied minors hinders the progress of immigrants applying for citizenship the legal way. Something must be done to rectify this growing problem. Immigration reform strengthens the borders, boosts the national economy, and increases the value of America as a whole in small and cautious steps.

Immigration has always been a popular topic in American politics, considering this country was founded on immigration. In 2014, the biggest immigration issues are the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have crossed the United States border without proper documentation. The unaccompanied minors are undocumented youth all under the age of eighteen that have fled their native countries in Central and South America. [1] The majority of unaccompanied minors originate from a region of Central America known as the “Northern Triangle,” where high rates of violence and homicide have prevailed in recent years and economic opportunity is increasingly hard to come by. Due to the previously stated issues, many parents of the unaccompanied minors have forced their children to flee to the United States in hopes of a better, safer, environment with more opportunities and surety of a good future.

A Department of Homeland Security study confirmed that most children leaving the Northern Triangle countries are doing so because of regional violence and poverty. [2] The study canvassed the specific localities where the unaccompanied minors originally came from and found that more minors were fleeing from cities where violence was more prevalent.

Growing tensions have arisen between liberals and conservatives alike, in trying to figure out how to handle the waves of unaccompanied minors that have been steadily coming into the country. Now that the unaccompanied minors have found their way into the United States, the United States government must find a way to accommodate them. Although many conservatives are against the waves of minors coming in, both parties have come to the conclusion that something must be done about the minors that are already here.

Several states throughout the U.S. have created accommodations for the unaccompanied youth. Currently, most children are placed in licensed foster homes, and other licensed care settings are utilized according to children’s individual needs, such as therapeutic foster care, group homes, residential treatment centers and independent living programs. [3]

President Obama has urged Congress to authorize billions of dollars in emergency funds to strengthen our nation’s current border security, hasten deportations and deal with the humanitarian crisis in Central America. [4] Republican lawmakers are pushing to amend the current immigration policy – Trafficking Victims’ Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, signed by President Bush – which make it difficult to send the children back to their native countries. This bill is one of the main reasons why the unaccompanied minors have become the United States’ responsibility. [5] Currently, the TVPRA requires that all unaccompanied foreign children be screened as potential human trafficking victims regardless of whether their previous conduct states otherwise. Therefore, not only is it difficult to jail and/or deport these minors, it is also difficult to create a legal status for them.

The unaccompanied minor situation coincidentally became a huge issue in the United States shortly after President Obama signed a memorandum in 2012 to help young undocumented immigrants who had come to the United States as small children. [6] Shortly after that memorandum was signed, Congress had serious talks for immigration reform. However, the Democrats and Republicans could not agree on how to proceed after agreeing on the reformation of current laws. Since the memorandum was a quick fix solution for a long-term problem, more reform will have to occur in order to create balance and justice in the U.S. legislative system. Current legislation does not provide solutions to either issue at the moment.

In 2011, roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants resided in the United States. That number has only grown since then, as many people have fled their countries as a result of political, social, or financial misfortune. The unaccompanied youth have only added to the population of undocumented people living in the United States. This poses as a serious problem because people still need to find a means to survive. Many undocumented people use false identification to work, to operate vehicles, and some may even be applying for benefits preserved only for those living legally in the United States, which is a serious crime on top of living illegally in the United States.

With current U.S. immigration laws, the millions of current undocumented immigrants do not have a definite path to residency or citizenship. Many are in limbo and have either the options of staying here and living in the United States without getting the benefits of someone who lives here legally, or going back to their home country with little to no chance of ever coming back to the United States due to their prior illegal presence.

Current immigration laws are very complex. [7] The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), the body of law governing current immigration policy, provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants, with certain exceptions for close family members e.g. spouses of U.S. citizens, unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens; 670,000 is a very small number next to the marginal 11 million and counting undocumented immigrants that currently live in the United States. These numbers give a small glimpse of the major problem Congress is having creating a bill that can rightly and justly take care of every single person who is not legally in the United States.

The laws are only half the problem. Another major issue with the United States regarding undocumented residency is the borders. How these children came and how these undocumented newcomers keep coming is becoming more and more out of control. The borders need stronger security, a more harsh policy or a more developed ‘check list’ to allow entry across the border.

As of late October 2014, President Obama is proposing new ideas and solutions to fix immigration reform and create a better immigration system. [8] Obama has already doubled the number of border patrol agents, making the force as strong as it ever has been. The proposal will strengthen and improve infrastructure at ports of entry, create new criminal penalties for those not just trafficking illegal persons but drugs and weapons; and in doing so the president plans to amplify working with cross-border law enforcement partners improving communication as well as collaborating with border communities to reduce such illegal trafficking.

In addition to border control, [9] The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. Of course, they will, as legal immigrants have, earn their citizenship by learning English, completing a background check, and then, of course, going to the back of the line of the others waiting to become legal. Taking the children into consideration, the President’s proposal gives opportunity to young children giving them a chance to earn citizenship hurriedly by serving in the military, or pursuing higher education; both ways directly contribute to the country’s well being. Immigration reform is not meant to just deport or minimize these undocumented people but to utilize them in making a stronger country. By taking action on the President’s proposals, the border will remain and continue to grow strong, undocumented children will prosper and give back to the country building a future, therefore boosting the economy.

In conclusion, immigration reform, although costly and timely needs to be done, efficiently and speedily, and of course benevolently, as these are people, many of them young children the country is dealing with. Immigration reform will secure the borders; legalize and naturalize those willing to make a contribution to the country’s well being, strengthening the integrity and economy of America; or deport those who are criminals or a threat to the country’s well being, again increasing the value of America as a whole. This country was founded on immigration, therefore immigration is important we thrive as a country on the people who thrive within it; working, developing, teaching and expanding culture is important. The limiting of the increase in growth of these immigrants and the weight of their contribution however is what needs to be strongly examined as they continue to come and prosper here. Reform will help build a stronger, economy by regulating border crossing, minimizing and controlling the trafficking of illegal matter and legalizing those who will contribute to the country.

Notes

[1] Scherer, Michael, and Maya Rhodan. “Flight of the Children.” Time 183, no. 25 (June 30, 2014): 17. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 2, 2014).
[2] Ana, Gonzalez-Barrera, Manueal-Krogstad Jens, and Hugo-Lopez Mark. “DHS: Violence, Poverty, Is Driving Children to Flee Central America to U.S.” July 1, 2014. Accessed October 6, 2014.
[3] Grillo, Ioan. “Desperate Voyagers.” Time 184, no. 6 (August 18, 2014): 26-31. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 2, 2014).
[4] Grillo, Ioan. “Desperate Voyagers.” Time 184, no. 6 (August 18, 2014): 26-31.
[5] Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 2, 2014).
Napolitano, Janet. DHS Memorandum. June 15, 2012. Accessed October 2, 2014. [8]
Park, Haeyoun. “Children at The Border.” October 21, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014.
[6] Alan, Gomez, and TODAY USA. “Obama seeks border rulings.” USA Today, n.d., Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 2, 2014).
[7] Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security. January 22, 2013. Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-through-naturalization
[8] “Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century.” The White House. January 29, 201. Accessed October 25, 2014. http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration.
[9] ibid., 8

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