Immigrant Advocate: unaccompanied minors are not a “border crisis” but a humanitarian crisis

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This is an urgent transcript. The copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOOD MAN: It is Democracy now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As Biden administration kicks off ‘Help Is Here’ tour to promote Democrats’ $ 1.9 trillion COVID Relief, a delegation of Republicans, led by parliamentary minority leader Kevin McCarthy, launched its own tour this week at the southern border of the United States, where up to 4,000 migrant children who have sought refuge in the United States are held in overcrowded cells, many longer than the three-day limit. On Monday, McCarthy said he visited a ICE El Paso Detention Center and told Fox News about visiting a border patrol station to speak with officers.

MINORITY LEADER KEVIN McCARTHY: When you go to Monument Three and talk to these agents, it’s not just people from Mexico, Honduras, or El Salvador. They are now finding people from Yemen, Iran, Turkey, people on the terrorist watch list they catch. And they rush all at the same time.

AMY GOOD MAN: On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security ordered the FEMA – it’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency – to, say, “help receive, house and transport children” over the next 90 days. He is a 17-year-old Honduran migrant who speaks to Reuters.

HONDURAN MIGRANTS: [translated] Thank goodness we are here at our destination and there will be opportunities here for us. We came here in pain. We have been on the road for a month suffering, starving, sleepless.

AMY GOOD MAN: Thousands of unaccompanied minors are sent to cities in Texas, including the state capital, Austin, and Dallas, where FEMA will welcome up to 3,000 unaccompanied adolescents, mainly boys.

It comes as Capitol Hill Democrats may vote this week on bills to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and provide legal status for farm workers as well as a path towards citizenship for DACA recipients.

To find out more, we go to El Paso, where we are joined by Fernando García, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

Welcome back to Democracy now!, Fernando. Describe the scene and what you think needs to happen.

FERNANDO GARCA: Listen, what we saw, what we are experiencing on the border, yes, it is indeed an influx of families and children crossing the border, but it is by no means a crisis or a new situation, as the Republicans had effectively presented. Historically, over the past 10 years we have seen an influx of more families and more children crossing the border. To give you an example, in 2015, we had almost 40,000 unaccompanied minors. In 2019, we had – it was a few years ago under the Trump administration – 70,000 unaccompanied minors. So what we are seeing at the border is not new.

I mean, it’s part of a bigger problem. We have had situations in Central America and Mexico that deport not only children, but families. And they keep coming. I mean, they never stopped coming. What happened, for example, last year, in 2020, instead of detaining these children, and instead of treating them and releasing them in the United States, the Trump administration deported, deported almost 10,000 children, unaccompanied minors.

So this is not true. I mean, we don’t have the so-called border crisis. If anything, we have a humanitarian crisis. But more than anything, we have a crisis in how the government is responding right now. I think the Biden administration is not ready, was not ready to face a situation like this, and more specifically after Trump destroyed the systems, destroyed the infrastructure of the refugee systems and d asylum in the past four years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fernando, could you tell us a little bit about the particular push, this most recent push? Do you see the role of these criminal gangs and the coyotes that are actually driving migration because it’s money for them? I hear now that it’s $ 8,000, $ 9,000, $ 10,000 to pay for coyotes to help people get to the border.

FERNANDO GARCA: I mean, it’s been true for many, many years here at the border, I mean, but it’s not specific for this year. I mean, how – while the border has been militarized since 1994, over the last 20 years what we’ve seen is an increase in the trade of coyotes and smugglers. I mean, to cross from El Paso to Juárez – or, sorry, from Juárez to El Paso, the coyotes charge thousands of dollars, because they’re the ones who actually have the means to get people across. Obviously, many of them are linked to criminal organizations on the Mexican side. But this is the result – I mean, we have to be very clear about this: it is the result of the militarization of the border. The harder it gets to find, it’s more business for some of these smugglers in some of these criminal organizations.

And again, immigration is a historical phenomenon. People keep coming for multiple reasons – crises in Central America, not only in terms of violence, but also economic crises. But then, when they get to the border, they see that there is the construction of border walls, that there is no more Border Patrol. Populated areas are sealed off so people cannot cross between Juárez and El Paso, so they have to hire some of these coyotes to take them further into the deserts, into the mountains, where these immigrants are more at risk. So this is nothing new. I mean, it comes first because the border has been militarized over the past 20 years.

JEANS GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of potential, now that there is a – Democrats control, or control very little, both the House and the Senate, as well as the White House, for any kind of legal reform that would bring order. and humanity to immigration policy in the United States, what is the outlook looking like right now, from what you can tell?

FERNAND GARCA: Yeah, again listen, I believe this administration has – they had very good intentions. Biden won this election by 70% of Hispanics voting in this country. And at the top of the Hispanic and Latino community’s agenda is immigration reform. I mean, people are asking for the legalization of the 11 million people already in the United States and also to establish some kind of process where we can actually bring in workers and families legally so that we don’t have to keep going. going through these pushes, you know, from people crossing the border. So, again, we expect this to happen.

But, you know, I think I’m very concerned about the way this administration, it is not prepared, or was not prepared, to deal with the situation at the border. I mean, for four years Trump destroyed everything at the border, I mean spent so much money on the border wall that there are no asylum officers or even asylum judges who can really speed up the process for these children and families. So, if this administration, if it does not put enough resources very quickly on the ground here – I mean, it is necessary, like, the creation of reception centers, for example, where we can surround these families of services, access to health care, access to legal support – if we don’t do it quickly, it can become a problem, a political problem. Apparently, this is already a problem for this administration. Then, whenever they go to Congress to discuss immigration reform, these Republicans will continue to use that situation to derail any solid and systemic immigration reform. I mean, again –

AMY GOOD MAN: We only have 30 seconds, but, Fernando, can you tell us where exactly this money should go? I mean, the idea of ​​turning it away from these detention centers and building that detention infrastructure versus the nonprofits that are used to treating migrants humanely?

FERNANDO GARCA: No, this is not going to resolve itself. It will be solved by nonprofits and community efforts like us. I mean, we do a lot. What we need is a solid investment from this government in creating what I mentioned, these reception centers. They are not detention centers run by ICE or Border Patrol or any private entity. We want government institutions to create reception centers where they can effectively provide enough resources for these families and for these children, and also expand the sponsorship program, including having families to sponsor these children who come through them. themselves. And finally – I think we’ve said this before – I mean, we need more resources at the entry points. We need more asylum officers and judges. We don’t have that at the border. That is why we know about this backlog in these detention centers housing children and families.

AMY GOOD MAN: Fernando García, we would like to thank you for being with us, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, based in El Paso, Texas.

On our return, the latest news regarding calls for the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Stay with us.


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