Children Flood U.S.-Mexico Border, Overwhelm Patrol Agency

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There's been a dramatic influx of unaccompanied minors showing up at the border. Dianne Solis of The Dallas Morning News talks about what's behind the numbers.


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, I'm Michel Martin. We'd like to start things off today talking about immigration and family. In a few minutes, we are going take a closer look at a Supreme Court ruling in an immigration case. That ruling came down on Monday and the justices ruled that many young people who turned 21 while waiting for visas will lose their spot in line. We want to understand that decision, and that's a little later. But first, we want to talk about what has become a very disturbing phenomenon in the immigration story. And that is the increasing number of children who are making the dangerous journey to the U.S. without a parent or a guardian. At the U.S.-Mexico border, the border patrol is being overwhelmed by thousands of children apprehended during these crossings. Joining us now to tell us more is Dallas Morning News staff writer Dianne Solis who's been reporting on this. Welcome back to the program, thanks so much for joining us.

DIANNE SOLIS: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: You reported that U.S. government officials have projected that the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended after crossing the border this fiscal year will hit 70,000. And that's nearly nine times more than the 8,000 apprehended in 2008. What's behind this, do we know?

SOLIS: Well, it's been building for some time and I've been in Dallas courtrooms watching it, and then in, outside Mexico City as well. And what young people and adults have told me, it's crime and gang violence, and gang recruitment and poverty. And I heard that over and over again.

MARTIN: Are there, are parents who are in the U.S. by themselves sending for these children, or are these children making the decision to come on their own?

SOLIS: In the case of the two Honduran teens that we focused on in our Sunday story, it was the teens themselves that decided to go. They were afraid of dying basically. They hated the gang recruitment and, in one case, the teenager's mother had died of cancer. And that's when he decided to set off in search of his father, a man in the Dallas area whom he hadn't seen for 14 years, but whom he had a relationship with by phone.

MARTIN: So does the, how do we treat these children and does it, does how we treat them vary depending on where they're from? For example, do we treat the Central American kids, likes kids from Honduras and El Salvador, do we treat them differently than we treat kids from Mexico, and do we treat them differently depending on what gender they are, for example?

SOLIS: We definitely treat the Mexicans differently. And in the numbers that you'll see, sometimes you won't see the Mexicans included. Mexico, because it is contiguous to the U.S., it's part of a legal situation in which the children, the juveniles, are simply sent back. The Central Americans are not. And the Central Americans who are apprehended, and are unaccompanied and juvenile, they are taken into shelters supposedly within 72 hours. A White House official recognized yesterday that sometimes now, because of the surge, they can't do it that quickly.

MARTIN: This is obviously caught the attention of policymakers at the very highest levels. I mean, the president last week asked for an additional 1.4 billion dollars to manage this influx, calling it an urgent humanitarian situation. I mean, this really recounts some of the refugee situations that we've reported on in other parts of the world. You know, we only have about a minute left and this is a very complex issue, you know, obviously. But what are officials here talking about as a long-term strategy to address this?

SOLIS: I don't think that they are talking about a long-term strategy. I think they're trying to deal with the immediate needs of the children and needs for shelters and needs for a legal representative in the courtrooms. The children and juveniles and any immigrant who's here unlawfully can of course hire an attorney, or find a low-cost attorney. And there's an effort around the country to get attorneys to work with the juveniles pro-bono.

MARTIN: So is that...

SOLIS: But the courts overwhelmed.

MARTIN: That's what I was going to ask you Dianne, final question to you. What's the next focus of your reporting on this, what are some of the other things we should be thinking about as the story unfolds?

SOLIS: We're going to look at two things. We're going to look at the courtrooms and we're going to look at the trauma that the juveniles have been through in this hellish journey up from Mexico, where their viewed as human loot for gangs and the big cartel that everyone knows here as the Zetas.

MARTIN: Dianne Solis is a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News and she was kind enough to join us from Dallas. Dianne Solis, thank you so much for reporting on this and thank you for keeping us up to date.

SOLIS: Thank you.

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