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President Obama Requests Authority to Deport Undocumented Children, Immigrant Rights Groups Fight Back

First Posted: Jul 07, 2014 06:41 PM EDT
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President Barack Obama petitioned Congress last week to grant him the authority to deport thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who crossed into the United States from Central America.

The proposal will likely continue the debate between Republicans and Democrats about immigration reform measures, which could affect November's midterm elections.

The Obama administration is asking Congress to approve $2 billion in emergency appropriations for increased border security to prevent more children from crossing into the U.S. through the Southwest border, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The influx of unaccompanied migrant children is filling up immigrant detention facilities, forcing border patrol agents to send the children to centers "as far away as California and Oklahoma."

The request is intended to quell criticism that the Obama administration is encouraging unaccompanied minors to travel to the U.S. from Central America.

Lawmakers will be presented with a difficult vote, as the U.S. has historically frowned upon the deportation of children. The law would also negate part of a bipartisan law passed in 2008 "that mandated certain protections for minors fleeing" countries fraught with violence and poverty, the Times wrote.

While Republicans may believe that supporting the deportations of minors shows their hard-line stance against illegal immigration, Democrats and Republicans representing Latino-heavy areas believe such a vote could hurt their chances for re-election.

"It's pretty sad if the one thing they pass this year is deporting a bunch of kids -- not just deporting, but permanently rolling back due process," Michelle Brané, migrant rights and justice director at immigration advocacy group Women's Refugee Commission, told the Times.

The White House was to on Monday ask Congress to quickly address the request, which it sees as an "aggressive deterrence strategy focused on the removal and repatriation of recent border crossers," according to a White House official.

The Obama administration is also launching a public relations campaign to convince children from Central America to not make the dangerous journey into the U.S.

Yet, while administration officials insist that children who cross the border illegally will not be permitted to stay, statistics show the Obama administration has not been as quick to deport child immigrants as is commonly believed.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained by the Times, "the number of minors deported or turned back at ports of entry fell to 1,669 last year, from 8,143 in 2008," Fox News reported.

Republicans believe the Obama administration's 2012 proposal to allow some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay in the country has prompted the surge in unaccompanied child migrants. However, the administration says a law passed in 2008 under President George W. Bush made it more difficult to send unaccompanied minors back to their home countries.

Now, in addition to the request to Congress, the administration is spending $1 million on a media campaign to dissuade families in Central America from sending their children to make the perilous journey to the United States.

The "Dangers Awareness" campaign will include hundreds of billboards and 6,500 public service announcements for radio and television stations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, CBS said, per The Associated Press.

One image shows a child's footprints in the desert with a message in Spanish that reads, "I thought it would be easy for my son to get papers in the USA. ... I was wrong."

The campaign will also include media events in the U.S. in areas with large Latino populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, and run in other Central American countries as well.

The ads will run through Sept. 7 and will make it clear that child immigrants will not allowed to stay in the U.S.

Since October, 226 immigrants have died crossing the border, and more than 52,000 children have been detained.

Besides authorizing more deportations, the Obama administration is still trying to figure out how to handle the influx of immigrants.

Certain immigrant rights organizations, such as the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), presented a six-pronged approach to Congress on Monday in an effort to present alternatives to deportation.

Stacie Blake, director of Government and Community Relations for USCRI, told Latin Post that parents or legal guardians from El Salvador or Honduras who reside legally in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) should be able to apply to reunite with their children.

"Minor children may be residing either in the U.S. or in their country of origin and their status would be linked to their parents. This will immediately reduce immigration court backlogs and apply to an estimated 30-40% of the children surrendering at the borders," USCRI wrote in a statement.

USCRI also believes the children should stay out of the courtroom. Instead, the group suggests instituting a Children's Corps based on the Asylum Officer Corps model.

"This would move the adjudication process from an adversarial, judicial process to an administrative process for most children," the group wrote. "Those who are not eligible for legal status would be placed in removal proceedings. It is estimated that 40% to 60% may be eligible for legal protection."

In addition, the group suggests in-country processing for applicants to apply for refugee status in their home country.

"The children would have to meet the U.S. refugee definition, be otherwise admissible, and would be resettled in an orderly fashion," they wrote.

USCRI also suggests that unaccompanied children and undocumented adults receive international protection from the UN Refugee Agency; that unaccompanied children who have already been brought into custody be granted Children's Protected Status (CPS); and that the government implement a cutoff date for future arrivals.

Congress is still deciding how to manage the worsening crisis.

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