Humanitarian Crisis at the Border
By Leah Citrin
In the last several weeks, considerable press time has been spent covering the humanitarian crisis taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border. A surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America has spurred much discussion and debate about the best way to address the fact that to date, 58,000 undocumented and unaccompanied minors have entered the United States. This number is more than double the 24,500 unaccompanied minors who entered the United States in 2013.
In addition to the increase in number, the demographic of children immigrating has changed. In 2014, more than three quarters of the children arriving at the border are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Though teenage boys used to comprise the majority of child migrants, there has been a dramatic increase and the number of girls, and the average age has dropped to around 13. These changes signal a shift in the root causes of migration.
As Reform Jews, we value welcoming the stranger and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. We are taught to preserve human dignity and this urgent humanitarian crisis requires us to respond in accordance with our values.
On July 8th, President Barack Obama requested $3.7billion dollars in supplemental aid to address the crisis. Absent from this request is any policy change to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. Signed into law by President George W. Bush, this legislation ensures that unaccompanied children entering the United States from countries other than Mexico and Canada cannot be immediately sent back to their country of origin. Instead, they must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, placed in the “least restrictive setting” that is in their “best interest” and given an opportunity to consult a lawyer and have a hearing in the immigration court system. In essence, the TVPRA grants children the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States with the help of people who are appropriately trained in dealing with victims of trauma.
The president’s request for aid did not offer language to change this legislation, but some Members of Congress are proposing changes to the TVPRA. These changes would treat migrant children coming from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala the same as those from contiguous countries, thus depriving them of the opportunity to access the legal and social assistance that might determine that they qualify for legal relief. As a result, changes to the TVPRA would jeopardize the protection of these children. We don’t want to be returning children to dangerous situations.
We have the opportunity to voice these concerns. Ask Congress to protect migrant children by opposing rollbacks to the TVPRA.
Leah Citrin will begin her 5th year as a rabbinical student this fall at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati. This summer, Leah is proud to be a Rabbinic Legislative Assistant at the RAC.