THERE is no question that the refugee crisis on the border is a humanitarian nightmare. But let us all also agree that unaccompanied migrant minors in federal shelters should be treated with basic human respect and decency.
That’s our way of saying that the Trump administration is on the verge of making a horrible situation even more intolerable. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun to slash funding for English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors in federal migrant shelters. The Department of Health and Human Services says such programs are draining the budget and “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety.”
There’s a lot wrong with this, both morally and pragmatically. The cutback would violate a more than two-decades-old federal court settlement and state licensing requirements that require education and recreation for minors in federal custody.
Besides, what is there to be gained by taking away structured activities and language lessons for youngsters who already bear the often invisible scars of a journey to escape violence? It doesn’t matter that these are migrants from another nation, or how they got here. Ask child welfare experts, and they will tell you that the administration’s action would threaten the medical and psychological health of already vulnerable children.
Making it more difficult for minors to obtain legal aid is even a greater travesty. What adult would go into court without an attorney? Why should children, some as young as 13 and already traumatized, face the prospect of going it alone in an immigration hearing?
Legal representation doesn’t mean that minors will get to stay, only that they will have someone available to advocate on their behalf, or assist in their return to their home country if they don’t qualify for asylum.
Like it or not, the federal government owns this problem, which began with the administration’s ill-advised family separation policy to discourage migrants from making the treacherous trek through Mexico to seek help at the U.S. border. Now the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied migrant minors is straining the system.
Congress must provide emergency funding to expand shelters and care, and to increase the number of immigration judges to expedite the processing of claims. Long term, it needs to address the many facets of immigration. Create physical barriers along the border. Establish a citizenship path for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. Resolve the status of the millions of adults illegally in the United States.
As a nation, we are paying the price for failing to think about immigration comprehensively and devoting adequate resources to a solution. Reasonable people should be able to come up with a rational, humanitarian policy that balances security and the promise of a better life. Let’s not make matters worse with a policy that further victimizes minors in the process.
—Excerpted from the Dallas Morning News