U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala and U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this month highlighted the thousands of unaccompanied, undocumented Central American youth crossing the U.S. southwest border into the United States.
Although the numbers don’t approach the millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans crossing the U.S. border in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the fact that many of these migrants are minors creates significant complications.
Traditional approaches to immigration control are not likely to be effective as long as the factors that cause youth migration remain unaddressed. A big one is the worrisome state of urban neighborhoods and rural municipalities in Central America, as well as in parts of Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that during the 6-month period from October 2013 to May 2014, some 47,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico crossed into the United States in southern Texas as undocumented migrants—a 90 percent increase over the same time period the previous year.
The problem is complicated by the question of whether some young migrants could be placed with family members already residing in the United States, and humanitarian concerns that some do not have homes to return to in their native countries. The problem is bad enough that DHS has set up temporary holding facilities at military bases in Texas, Oklahoma and California.
By a vote of 65 to 46, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a legislation on Tuesday to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. This comes after the measure received overwhelming endorsement from the state Senate in December.
Governor Patrick Quinn expressed his willingness to sign the bill into law. “Roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules and is trained to drive safely,” he said. According to the Illinois Highway Safety Coalition, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in almost 80,000 accidents in the state each year.
Under the new law, Temporary Visitor Driver’s Licenses, now available for foreigners, will also become available for undocumented immigrants. To be eligible for a license, all drivers must have lived in Illinois for at least a year, as well as successfully completed road tests and have proper insurance. These licenses are renewable every three years and cannot be used for other identification purposes such as voting.
A 2010 Pew Research Hispanic Center survey revealed that 16 percent of the Illinois population—the fifth most populous state in the U.S.—is of Hispanic descent. Once signed, Illinois will join Washington, Utah and New Mexico as the only states in the U.S. that provide driving permits or licenses for undocumented immigrants. For Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White Tuesday was a victory not only for Illinois’ estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants of legal age to drive, but also for all the residents who will now feel safer on the road.
In a meeting with diplomats from various Central American countries yesterday, Mexican Senate president Manlio Fabio Beltrones promised to draft new immigration legislation that will protect and guarantee the human rights of undocumented migrants in Mexico. The new legislation proposes to resolve issues not yet addressed by current law including protections for migrants who witness crimes, higher penalties for human trafficking and increased access to health, legal and financial services. These changes are directed toward undocumented immigrants who have already settled in Mexico as a means of normalizing their status.
Estimates are that approximately 300,000 Central Americans travel through Mexico on their way to the United States annually. Mexican authorities apprehend and deport less than a third of those undocumented migrants. At the same time, the systematic abuse of undocumented migrants is on the rise in Mexico with reported assaults and kidnappings increasing in recent years including the most recent murder of 72 undocumented migrants last August by drug cartels.
Mr. Beltrones’ proposal was met with praise by the ambassadors and consuls from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Speaking on behalf of the Central Americans, Ambassador Hugo Roberto Carrillo of El Salvador thanked the Mexican authorities for their efforts on behalf of undocumented migrants while noting that transgressions against migrants were being perpetrated by both Mexican authorities, in overly aggressive efforts to control the flow of immigrants, and by organized crime. Despite this announcement, human rights activists and the United Nations demanded that the disappearances of migrants and past abuse of migrants to date be investigated and resolved.
A new analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center reports that while undocumented immigrants make up approximately four percent of the adult population in the U.S., their children represent eight percent of the newborn population and seven percent of the child population (younger than age 18). Factors explaining the difference include the relative young age of immigrants and their greater likelihood of having large families.
The report comes amid growing calls by conservative lawmakers in Washington to consider repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which endows citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. The debate began in early August following comments made by Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who told Fox News that the amendment no longer serves its original purpose and should be re-examined. He and other politicians argue that fewer people would cross the border if they no longer had the incentive of giving birth to U.S. citizens.
The report also arrives as 224 U.S. National Guard troops prepare to deploy along California’s southern border on September 1. The troops will assist with counter-narcotics, anti-illegal immigration and other border security operations.
This afternoon Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) reminded the American people what awaits in 2010: a much-needed national discussion on immigration reform. Joined by lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Progressive Caucus, Gutierrez introduced his long-awaited Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009. Or, CIR ASAP as the bill’s acronym fittingly spells out.
And while his legislation is unlikely to be the bill that ultimately passes, it puts pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to step up their efforts at finding a workable solution to one of the
Of course, health care reform must first be voted on in the Senate, and if passed, reconciled with the House version before discussions shift to immigration reform. But when they do, all eyes will be on Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration.
Schumer is said to be working closely with Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and is expected to introduce an immigration reform bill in January. Leaders in both chambers expect action in February or March. But the House is likely to take its cues from the Senate on this one.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.