About 52,000 unaccompanied children from several Central American countries have crossed the U.S. border and entered American custody since October, according to NPR.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, established in 2008, states that children who are not from Canada or Mexico must receive a court hearing before their immigration status is decided, NPR wrote. Given the number of immigrant children, hearing every case would take years, causing a massive backlog.
President Obama recently asked Congress to amend the 2008 law and to approve $3.7 billion toward sending the majority of these children back to their home countries, according to NPR, and this decision has seen a wide spectrum of public responses.
Opponents of deportation argue that these children are escaping extreme violence in their home countries and the U.S. turning its back will only escalate a humanitarian crisis.
“The vast majority of the child migrants come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — all struggling with levels of violence tantamount to an undeclared regional war,” wrote Jo Tuckman of The Guardian.
The situation in many of these immigrants’ home countries is severe enough that the U.N. has been pushing for these immigrants to be labeled as refugees, according to the news site Big Story.
Some, particularly those who live in border states such as California, are strongly opposed to the influx of child immigrants. Monday, protesters gathered in the California town of Murrieta, challenging the expected arrival of busloads of immigrants, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“Releasing them on our streets with diseases in unacceptable,” protest organizer Diana Serafin told the Times. “The city needs a break. This is draining the resources of Murrieta. I don’t want to see our city go bankrupt.”
"This is a national problem, and the world showed up on our doorsteps,” Murrieta Mayor Alan Long told CNN. “We didn't have a lot of answers early on, and there were some legitimate concerns, health concerns and humane concerns. People were concerned about the people, the immigrants coming here. Would they have proper facilities? Who is going to take care of them? How long is this going to be for?”
Others believe that repealing the Trafficking Victims Act will actually protect immigrants.
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“Families and children are being duped by criminal cartels into paying fortunes on the expectation that they will be welcomed into the United States,” read an editorial from Arizona Central. “As long as safeguards remain for those who truly are fleeing violence and persecution, (a quick change to immigration policy) is the humane response.”
Regardless of policy, some have said, it is important to remember that these immigrants are human beings, not security threats.
"These are family members, these are not gang members, these are not dangerous individuals," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said to ABC News. "I think that we all need to work through this problem together as Americans."
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2