The United States is grappling with a surge of children arriving
illegally, opening military bases to house the detained youths and
working with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador
to keep them from leaving home.
Republicans contend that Obama administration policies have created
an incentive for additional border crossings. They blame the influx
of children on President Barack Obama's 2012 decision to give
temporary relief from deportation to some young people brought to
the United States illegally by their parents.
But the Democratic lawmakers said the children are fleeing
drug-fueled violence and said the masses at the border should be
treated as a humanitarian and refugee crisis.
"We're seeing unprecedented violence, unprecedented suffering,
unprecedented abuse," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman Robert Menendez. "This is much more than an immigration
Proposals outlined by Menendez included providing lawyers for the
children and families, having child welfare experts screen
unaccompanied children, offering alternatives to detention and smart
investment in Central America to stem the flow of people out.
More than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America,
crossed into the United States between October and May, according to
the Department of Homeland Security.
The U.N. refugee agency estimated 58 percent of unaccompanied
children arriving in the United States may have a viable claim to
refugee protection under international law, Menendez said.
"Some of the children will qualify for protection under asylum,
trafficking and other laws, while other children will not," Menendez
told a news conference. "All of these families and children deserve
to have these cases heard."
He suggested extra costs for implementing the proposals would be
offset by containing the crisis. A U.S. Senate panel last week
sought $2.28 billion to feed and shelter an estimated 130,000 minors
expected to arrive in the next year.
Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, said
the children amassing at the border would not be eligible for
deportation reprieve under the policy that Obama put in place in
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"So why are they coming?" he asked. "They are fleeing for their
The senators urged the United States to adopt long-term solutions,
including cracking down on smuggling and human traffickers and
supporting good governance, effective messaging and policing in
Honduras is the murder capital of the world and Guatemala and El
Salvador are in the top five, said U.S. Representative Luis
Gutiérrez, a vocal advocate of broad immigration reform legislation.
He and Menendez said Central American countries must do a better job
at stemming the tide of people leaving.
In a House speech earlier, Gutierrez said lawmakers in the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a "very testy meeting" on
Wednesday with diplomats from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Guatemala on Friday to meet
Central American leaders about the influx of unaccompanied minors.
(Editing by Caren Bohan and Jonathan Oatis)
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