The immigration debate that has gripped border states like Texas and Arizona for years has come to Massachusetts in recent days, following the news that Gov. Deval Patrick has offered to temporarily house up to 1,000 of the some 60,000 young migrants being held along the border in a state air base.
Reaction across the region has been strong. Rallies have been held in opposition and support. Municipal governments have debated the issue. Columns have sprung up in the local press.
A recent poll found that 43 percent of Bay State voters say the children should be deported, and that 43 percent oppose Gov. Patrick’s offer to temporarily house them here. As for whether state funds should be used to help them? A resounding 57 percent said "no."
But questions remain about the plan, the situation along the border and how it will impact us here in the Bay State. We delve into a few of them here.
The number of unaccompanied minors being apprehended along the US’s southwest border has been referred to as a “spike.” How big of a “spike” are we talking here?
Big. They keep the numbers by fiscal year, which goes from October 1 through the following September. Last year, there were a total of 38,759 apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the border. Through June of this year, there have been 57,525. At that rate, more than 76,000 unaccompanied minors will be taken in. That's just about double last year's number. By any measure, that's significant.
Are most of the people being taken into custody at the border unaccompanied minors?
Not even close. According to US Border Patrol Data, 414,397 people were apprehended along the Southwest Border in 2013. The 38,759 unaccompanied minors account for a little less than 10% of that total. Even if the number of unaccompanied minors doubles this year, they will still be a very a small percentage of those being caught illegally crossing into America.
The focus has been on the surge in unaccompanied children but the number of apprehensions of children who are with a parent or guardian has spiked at an even faster rate. Its nearly tripled in less than a year.
Also worth noting: On the whole – fewer people have been caught coming over the border in recent years. In 7 out of the 8 years between 1999-2006, there were more than 1 million people taken into custody. In each of the last four years, it’s been less than half-a-million.
We keep hearing the term unaccompanied minors. But what are we talking about here? Are these kids 7? 12? 17?
The majority of them are teenagers, though the number of children 12 and under is increasing, up 117% in the past year. By comparison, the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied teenagers has increased by only 12% over the same time period.
Despite the increase in children under 12, the vast majority are still teens. So far in 2014, 84% were teens.
It’s also worth noting that the U.S. categorizes children as “unaccompanied” if they are not traveling with a parent or guardian, though they may be traveling with another relative – say an older sibling, aunt or uncle.
Gov. Deval Patrick has offered a National Guard base in Bourne on Cape Cod and Westover Air Reserve Base as potential sites to temporarily house some of these minors. What are the details?
According to Patrick, a request came to his office from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The details of the ask: 90,000 square feet of space to temporarily shelter up to 1,000 kids for up to 4 months, in a secure facility.
The average length of stay in these types of facilities is is 30-35 days.
Is it going to happen? And if so, when?
That’s up to the folks in Washington.
Here’s what Kenneth J. Wolfe, Deputy director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families emailed me when I asked:
"While only a few facilities will ultimately be selected, a wide range of facilities are being identified and evaluated to determine if they may feasibly provide temporary shelter space for children. Facilities will be announced when they are identified as viable options."
Wolfe declined to offer a timeline for any announcement.
Who pays for it?
Straight from the governor’s mouth: “It’s not gonna happen unless 100 percent of the cost is born by the federal government. That is their pledge and it’s our condition. It’s not something we dreamt up.”
Patrick has also said that nobody has proposed bringing the unaccompanied minors into Massachusetts neighborhoods. Does that mean they won’t end up in our cities and towns?
Nope. Whether or not a Massachusetts facility is selected to house detainees as they are processed, some will end up in Massachusetts communities.
According to the Homeland Security Website, in general, unaccompanied minors are processed out of secure facilities into the custody of a relative or some other sponsor in the United States, pending outcome of the immigration process.
Matt Cameron, an immigration attorney with Cameron Law Offices in East Boston says, “The fact is that we already have these ORR [Office of Refugee Relocation] facilities all over the country. And I routinely process kids who are coming to join family in East Boston or Chelsea, or Revere, anywhere around here that are coming from Indiana, from Texas, from other big facilities.”
How are they processed? What is the ultimate outcome?
One of three things will happen to most of these kids.
Some will be sent home from secure facilities, though this happens in a minority of cases. Some will be placed with family temporarily, and ultimately deported at a later time.
For those who seek to stay in the United States, there are two options:
One is to seek asylum status. Cameron called that a “tough box to fit a lot of these kids into,” since in the US grants asylum based on a very specific set of criteria. Violence or fear of generalized crime does not meet those criteria.
More common is that the unaccompanied minor will seek Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ) status.
What is SIJ status and what does it mean?
Let’s say an unaccompanied minor has an adult sibling, cousin, or aunt in Massachusetts. When they are processed out of a secure facility, they are placed with that family member.
They then appear in deportation/removal proceedings in a Boston Immigration Court, where they can begin the process of attaining SIJ status:
The status requires that the child demonstrate that one or more parents has neglected or abandoned them.
Cameron says it’s a multi-step process:
First, a state court recognizes you’ve been neglected and need a legal guardian –then names the local relative as your legal guardian.
Citizenship and immigration Services then approves a petition that confirms you are under guardianship and eligible for Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ) status
A local immigration judge can then grant you permanent residency, based on that petition.
Cameron calls this a “very common" route to residency here in Massachusetts.
How long does this all take?
A long time. Boston’s immigration court has one judge, Robin E. Feder, who is tasked with all cases regarding unaccompanied minors.
Just one judge? Why?
Cameron says it’s because the system is chronically underfunded. “These cases are being put out for years," he said.
“It’s actually years before most of them are resolved,” Cameron said.